Three months after Nancy Spector resigned as artistic director and chief curator of the Guggenheim Museum on charges of racism, the museum appointed Naomi Beckwith, the black woman, as deputy director and chief curator.
“When you look at the cultural landscape – especially in the United States – it is clearly one of today’s great leaders with tremendous potential,” said Richard Armstrong, the museum’s director. “She is very adept at questions of identity and especially multidisciplinary art. We have to think about the growth of the Guggenheim over the next few years, so it has to be a person of enormous capacity. “
Ms. Beckwith, 44, who has served as the Senior Curator of the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago since 2018, will oversee collections, exhibitions, publications, curatorial programs and archives in her new position starting in June. It will also set the strategic direction, the museum said.
In an interview, Ms. Beckwith said her work will include “bringing more diversity to museum collections and exhibitions”.
Mrs. Beckwith comes to the Guggenheim while the museum is working through a difficult chapter. In 2019, the guest curator of the museum’s Jean-Michel Basquiat exhibition, Chaédria LaBouvier, accused the black woman of racist treatment at the Guggenheim.
The museum then hired its first full-time black curator, Ashley James, though the Guggenheim said the appointment was not in response to Ms. LaBouvier’s experience.
Last June, a letter signed “The Curatorial Department” called for major changes to “an unequal work environment that enables racism, white supremacy and other discriminatory practices.” In response, the Guggenheim announced a two-year plan to develop strategies for reporting discrimination and developing diversity programs.
An independent investigation in October found no evidence that Ms. LaBouvier “had suffered adverse treatment because of her race”. At the same time, the museum announced that Ms. Spector, who is white, is leaving after 34 years with the Guggenheim, pursuing other curatorial endeavors and completing her doctoral thesis. “
While some might see Ms. Beckwith as an effort by the Guggenheim to find a quick fix to the recent turmoil, Mr. Armstrong said, “It’s not about any of this.”
“It’s about the future of the institution,” he continued. “It is very promising that our employees and our board of directors are committed to this type of change. So it’s not just Naomi; It’s Namoi in concert with a large group of people. “
Mrs. Beckwith also said she did not see herself as a plaster. “I would not have taken this position if I hadn’t felt like the museum wasn’t doing the healing work that they are,” she said. “What I heard clearly from Richard is that they do the work themselves. You are simply looking for a partner for it. “
At the MCA, where Ms. Beckwith has held curatorial offices since 2011, she focused on issues of identity and multidisciplinary practices through exhibitions such as the first major survey by Afro-American artist Howardena Pindell and the legacy of the black avant-garde “The Principle of Freedom: Experiments in Art and Music, 1965 to today “and” Homebodies “. She has also developed a project with British-Nigerian sculptor Yinka Shonibare, whose work deals with race, colonialism and cultural identity.
Ms. Beckwith, who received her bachelor’s degree from Northwestern University and her master’s degree from the Courtauld Institute of Art, London, was previously an associate curator at the Studio Museum in Harlem. She was a member of the jury for the Hugo Boss Prize 2020 in Guggenheim and a member of the curatorial team for “Mourning and Mourning: Art and Mourning in America”, which will open in February at the New Museum.
The museum called her “an integral part of Guggenheim’s management” in its press release and said Ms. Beckwith’s job would be to advise on global art initiatives. Partnership with the curatorial teams of the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao and the Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice; and cooperation on the development of the future Guggenheim in Abu Dhabi.
Ms. Beckwith said she looked forward to being part of the Guggenheim’s transformation effort. “We’re preserving art history for future audiences,” she said. “It is now clear that it is not a museum’s job to preserve art history, but rather to preserve several art histories.”