Art director

Baltimore Museum of Art director Christopher Bedford to leave to direct SFMoMA

Christopher Bedford, who in his six years as director of the Baltimore Museum of Art (BMA) helped raise the profile of the institution – sometimes sparking controversy in the process – is stepping down to take over as head of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMoMA). He will begin as director of the Bay Area’s most prominent art museum in June.

“I very much look forward to working with the leadership and staff of SFMoMA to define and further develop the museum’s mission, priorities and program,” Bedford said in a statement.. “This work will necessarily require a great deal of listening and learning on my part, and I am excited to begin the process when I arrive in San Francisco in June.”

Bedford’s tenure at the BMA was defined first and foremost by a project of alienation that crystallized an industry-wide dynamic of attention moving away from the predominantly white, male artists who had long defined the canon of music. art towards a more diverse, global and inclusive art narrative.

In 2018, the BMA made $16.1 million from the sale of seven works, including pieces by Andy Warhol, Franz Kline, Kenneth Noland and Robert Rauschenberg through Sotheby’s. But in October 2020, following widespread criticism and an outcry in the museum field, the institution abandoned a bolder plan to sell works by Warhol, Brice Marden and Clyfford Still that would have raised up to 65 millions of dollars.

Last spring, the museum inaugurated an exhibition presenting some of the works acquired thanks to funds from the 2018 sales of alienated works; it included pieces by Betye Saar, Benny Andrews, Jaune Quick-To-See Smith, Firelei Báez, Laura Ortman, Beverly Buchanan, Barbara Chase-Riboud, Thornton Dial, Fred Eversley, Ficre Ghebreyesus, Lonnie Holley and Suzanne Jackson. Last summer, announcing 175 other acquisitions by the museum, Bedford reaffirmed its commitment to providing a fuller picture of artistic achievement.

“Over the past few years we have focused on correcting critical omissions in our post-war and contemporary collections as part of an effort to tell a truer narrative of art history” , he said in a statement. “We now look deeper into history and across geography and culture to reveal artists, artworks and innovations that may have gone unrecognized in centuries past to shift the conversation around from the diversification of collections in the modern era to the history behind it.”

In 2017, Bedford co-curated Mark Bradford’s exhibition in the American Pavilion at that year’s Venice Biennale, which later traveled to the BMA. More recently, he co-curated (with future colleague Sarah Roberts of SFMoMA) the major traveling retrospective of abstract expressionist Joan Mitchell which wrapped up in San Francisco last month and opens in Baltimore on March 6. . And the BMA under Bedford did not completely turn its back on dead white men. The museum, which houses the world’s largest public collection of works by Henri Matisse, opened a center last December dedicated to the study of the work and life of the French modernist.

The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMoMA) Photo: Jon McNeal, © Snøhetta

Bedford will replace Neal Benezra, who announced a year ago that he would be leaving after nearly two decades at SFMoMA. At the time, the museum was operating with a deficit of $17 million. His departure came after a particularly turbulent period at the institution, which included the resignation of chief curator Gary Garrels following offensive comments made during a Zoom meeting, and Benezra issuing a formal apology after the Instagram comment of ‘a former black employee on the museum’s response to the anti-racism summer 2020 protests have been suppressed by the museum. Last summer, the museum cut a number of programs, including its film series, publishing platform and gallery dedicated to Bay Area artists.

Like his successor, Benezra has at times flouted industry mores about alienation in the name of diversity. In 2019, the SFMoMA was criticized for choosing to sell an outstanding painting by Mark Rothko, Untitled (1960), with the intention of using the resulting funds to acquire new works, including pieces by historically underrepresented artists. The Rothko sold for $50.1 million at a Sotheby’s sale in New York, and the institution invested the money in buying works by Leonora Carrington, Frank Bowling, Norman Lewis, Kay Sage , Alma Thomas, Mickalene Thomas and Lygia Clark.

The big hit of Benezra’s tenure at SFMoMA is undoubtedly his $305 million expansion, designed by leading Norwegian architect Snøhetta, which spanned six years and, when it opened in 2016, nearly tripled the space of institution exhibition.