In a Surprise Move, ‘New York Times’ Art Writer Randy Kennedy Joins Hauser and Wirth

Does this leap to the commercial gallery realm reflect a growing trend?

Randy Kennedy. © Patrick McMullan. Photo by Patrick McMullan.

In a surprising announcement, mega-gallery Hauser & Wirth announced that Randy Kennedy, a highly respected arts writer and 23-year veteran of the New York Times, has joined as director of special projects.

In his new role, Kennedy will head up a number of new editorial, writing, and documentary initiatives for the web as well as for print, including relaunching and expanding the gallery’s magazine, Volume, which has been on hiatus for over a year. He will serve as editor-in-chief.

Does the reintroduction of the gallery magazine signal a growing trend? Fellow blue-chip titan Gagosian recently reintroduced its own large, glossy, print periodical to showcase its stable of artists and to track and promote major projects at their branches, as well as fairs and biennials all over the world. The latest issue of Gagosian Quarterly features paid full-page advertisements from Chanel, Gucci, Louis Vuitton, and other non-art luxury companies.

Zwirner Gallery, meanwhile, has been active in publishing monographs of its artists and other major art books under the standalone publishing house of the gallery that it introduced in 2014, led by Lucas Zwirner, the dealer’s son. And, several years ago, Lisson Gallery hired the Time Out London art critic Ossian Ward as its in-house head of content.

Kennedy will be based in New York but will work with the entirety of the gallery’s artists and platforms around the world. Hauser & Wirth has two New York galleries (Chelsea and the Upper East Side), as well as spaces in the UK at London and Somerset, and in Zurich, Switzerland. Last year, the gallery opened a sprawling new gallery space in a former flour mill in Los Angeles’s fast-growing downtown arts district.

While certainly unexpected, Kennedy’s appointment is the latest lateral move between the art world’s once strictly bordered but now increasingly porous realms. Though still relatively rare, the past few years have seen both journalists and nonprofit and museum leaders making the leap to for-profit galleries and commercial art fairs—professional trajectories that were historically frowned upon or, at worst, considered unthinkable.

For confirmation, look no further than veteran arts writer Marc Spiegler, who is now global director of the wildly successful Art Basel fairs. Additionally, Benjamin Genocchio, also a former New York Times arts writer and former editor-in-chief of artnet News, left arts journalism to take the reins of the Armory Show in early 2016. Longtime Brooklyn Museum director Arnold Lehman now works with Phillips auction house as a senior advisor.

Hauser & Wirth itself had been at the forefront of this trend, hiring Paul Schimmel, the former chief curator of the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, in 2013 to head the gallery’s nascent LA operation. He departed suddenly in February. (Interestingly, Schimmel’s tenure at Hauser & Wirth was itself the end result of another surprising art world move across the commercial-nonprofit divide: Jeffrey Deitch’s departure from his New York art dealing dynasty in 2010 to take the reins at MoCA.)

Kennedy had one of the most visible and coveted jobs in art journalism, but his move coincides with cutbacks to the beat at many broadsheet newspapers. Last year, the Times ended its coverage of galleries and theaters in the tri-state New York area and launched a redesign of its culture pages that included a larger emphasis on visuals (as opposed to expensive-to-produce text). Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal consolidated its culture pages last fall, reducing its local arts coverage in the face of declining print ad revenue.

In a statement, the gallery’s vice president Marc Payot noted Kennedy’s “curiosity, talent, depth of knowledge, and uncanny sensitivity toward the visions and intentions of artists,” and said it makes him “uniquely qualified to lead a host of new editorial and journalistic initiatives in partnership with us.”

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