Following Reports of Toxic Leadership at the New Museum, a Collector Has Resigned From the Board of Its Nonprofit Affiliate Rhizome

Seth Stolbun announced his resignation in a letter he published on Instagram.

The New Museum. Image courtesy of Peter Guthrie via Flickr

Art collector Seth Stolbun has announced his resignation from the board of directors at Rhizome, the digital art-focused organization affiliated with the New Museum in New York.

In his resignation letter, which he shared on Instagram, Stolbun cites a recent New York Times exposé in which numerous museum employees detailed a toxic work environment at the Manhattan institution.

Among the incidents alleged by employees are instances of verbal harassment, emotional abuse, and unethical business practices. 

“After multiple phone calls and emails with Rhizome’s executive director and board chair, I cannot in good conscience have any continued relationship with Rhizome because of its relationship with the New Museum,” Stolbun wrote. “I hold myself and the organizations that I am a part of to the highest standards and as a result of that, I find it untenable to remain a board member and supporter of Rhizome.”

Stolbun tells Artnet News that he initiated a conversation with fellow board members about disaffiliating Rhizome from the New Museum immediately after the article was published. Ultimately, he says, “the board chair and executive director did not wish to pursue it. This led to my decision to resign from the board.”

Stolbun serves as executive director of the Edith and Bernard Stolbun Family Foundation, a Houston-based nonprofit founded by his grandparents, and operates a curatorial project centered on his own collection. He joined the board of Rhizome in 2018.

His resignation letter highlights multiple passages from the Times story, including one in which an employee details the museum’s dismissal of her sexual harassment complaint.

More than 30 interviews with current and former museum employees were conducted for the article. One worker said art handlers were occasionally required to ride atop a passenger elevator to move artworks and others said they were asked to lie to US Customs officials.

A former registrar called the museum a “sweatshop,” while a former assistant says that director Lisa Phillips runs the institution as “her private fiefdom.” 

Founded in 1996, Rhizome has been affiliated with the New Museum since 2003. 

“We thank Seth for his service and support over the past two years,” Greg Pass, Rhizome’s board chair, said in a statement to Artnet News. “Rhizome greatly values its affiliation with the New Museum—an enduring, essential partnership over 17 years as independent organizations with distinct missions and work, but a shared goal in advancing born-digital art and culture. New Museum has supported us across our work, and as we’ve grown as an organization.

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