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DAVID A. ROSS RESIGNS FROM SF MoMA

David A. Ross abruptly resigned as director of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (www.sfmoma.org) last Friday, a position he had accepted after leaving the Whitney Museum of American Art three years ago. The move came so unexpectedly that the San Francisco Chronicle, in an article published on Friday, quoted several people prominent in the San Francisco art community expressing their disbelief. The story even quoted Ross’s wife saying that the move was “a surprise."

In an attempt to explain their director’s unexpected departure, the museum’s board of trustees issued a statement saying that Ross had priorities “that diverged from those of the museum.“ Its chairperson, Ellen McKeon, told the New York Times on Saturday that the economic downturn in San Francisco in the wake of its high-tech economy’s decline was forcing the museum to shift its focus to ”internal management,” whereas Ross, she stated, “is focused on external matters."

Today, however, another article in the Chronicle shed new light on the situation. At a lunch with McKeon and the board’s president, Richard L. Greene, the fifty-one-year-old Ross explained that his sudden departure was due largely to his desire to make more money than his current $393,000 annual salary. “I have to think about myself a bit,” he was quoted as saying. Apparently, in an effort to do so, earlier this year Ross became a director of Eyestorm, a London-based website founded in 1999 as a self-styled alternative to the traditional gallery system. A venture-capital start-up, Eyestorm signs exclusive contracts with artists such as Jeff Koons, Damien Hirst, and William Wegman, and sells art in shops in New York and Paris as well as online. Prominent California media-art collector Dick Kramlich also sits on its board.

The move, however, was not well received by SF MoMA's board, which believed that conflicts of interest were inevitable. The article suggested that this situation, which emerged in May, was largely responsible for Ross’s resignation last week. The luncheon seemed planned to quell any sense that Ross is departing under duress, and the museum board insists that Ross's resignation shouldn't affect his career. “David’s reputation in the global art community is excellent, and we know he will contribute greatly to any institution he decides to join,” McKeon said.

Indeed, since arriving at SF MoMA, Ross has been very successful at drawing attention to the institution: Membership has nearly doubled, from 24,000 to 44,000 (more than New York’s MoMA), since he came on board. Over a period of three years, Ross and the museum have spent $140 million buying works by Chuck Close, Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, Ellsworth Kelly, Robert Rauschenberg, and Sam Francis, among others, in a bid to build a collection equal to their world-class ambitions.

Because Ross's resignation is effective immediately, SF MoMA has stated that it is already consulting executive search firms to find a new director. According to the first story in the San Francisco Chronicle, Ross was already entertaining new job prospects as early as Thursday evening. One unconfirmed rumor circulating in San Francisco is that he may head to Mass MoCA, although that institution's director, Joseph C. Thompson, told Artforum yesterday that he knew nothing of such a prospect.

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