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The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York.
The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York.

Curator Nancy Spector Departs Guggenheim as Investigation into Basquiat Show Ends

Nancy Spector, the museum’s artistic director and chief curator, will be departing New York’s Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum after a 34-year career there to “pursue other curatorial endeavors and to finish her doctoral dissertation,” according to a statement by the museum. The announcement was made jointly by Spector and Guggenheim director Richard Armstrong. No reference was made to whether Spector made the decision to step down or was forced to do so by the museum.

Spector’s departure comes as a three-month-long independent investigation into the Guggenheim’s—and specifically Spector’s—treatment of guest curator Chaédria LaBouvier in relation to the institution’s landmark 2019 Jean-Michel Basquiat show, “Defacement: The Untold Story,” concludes. LaBouvier, the first Black woman to stage an exhibition at the Guggenheim, contended that Spector, who is white, and the museum attempted to effectively erase her efforts in regard to the Basquiat exhibition, which she brought to the institution. Her sentiments were echoed in June in a collectively signed letter from the Guggenheim’s curatorial staff to management citing the museum’s treatment of LaBouvier as one example of the institution’s continued propagation of racism with its walls. The letter spurred reforms at the Guggenheim, as well as the investigation and, presumably, Spector’s three-month sabbatical from the institution, beginning in July.

A post-investigation report—for which LaBouvier was not interviewed—found no evidence that she “was subject to adverse treatment on the basis of her race,” according to the museum’s statement on the matter. In its release announcing Spector’s departure, the Guggenheim named its now-former chief curator “a tireless advocate for the diversification of the Guggenheim's exhibition program and curatorial department,” noting that she “hired BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and people of color) curators, and led efforts to expand the collection to include works by artists of color, female artists, queer artists, and non-binary artists.”

However, the Guggenheim, like many institutions across the globe, clearly continues to struggle to respond to the surging Black Lives Matter movement, acknowledging that despite its formation of a diversity initiative and commitment to offering paid internships to candidates from underserved communities, “the museum’s lack of diversity in staff, programming and outreach remains an urgent issue.”