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Manuel Borja-Villel.  Photo: La Invisible Centro Social y Cultural/Wikimedia Commons.
Manuel Borja-Villel. Photo: La Invisible Centro Social y Cultural/Wikimedia Commons.

Manuel Borja-Villel to Depart as Director of Reina Sofía

Manuel Borja-Villel, who has led Madrid’s Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía for fifteen years, will not stand for re-election to the post this spring. According to Spanish daily El País, he will depart the role on January 20. Borja-Villel is eligible to reapply for the role of director through a public competition, which opens February 1, but told Spanish news outlet Efe that he had made the decision to leave “quite some time ago” after conferring with his staff and his family. He waited until the last possible moment to make the announcement, concerned that doing so earlier might negatively affect the future of projects that had taken shape under his leadership.

He firmly denied allegations, published in the right-wing newspaper ABC, that his departure was connected to supposed irregularities regarding two of three total extensions to his contract, taking place in 2013 and 2018, respectively. The historian asserted that both extensions were granted under the government of the People’s Party with the endorsement of the then-current ministers of culture following favorable reports from the state attorney’s office. The Reina Sofía, too, has refuted the allegations of maladministration and has denounced ABC—which has also accused Borja-Villel of “imposing a monolithic ideological discourse” aligned with “the most radical militants of the Ibero-American left”—of mounting a smear campaign against the museum and its outgoing director. In emails to Artfourm, both Borja-Villel and a representative for the Reina Sofía denied he had indicated he would remain in his post when the open competition was announced this past November, as reported by El País.

Reina Sofía deputy managing director, Julián González Cid and deputy artistic director Mabel Tapia will together take over Borja-Villel’s duties following his departure. The parameters of the competition will be announced February 1, with a candidate likely announced in the spring. The job, to which Borja-Villel was unanimously elected in 2007, is considered one of the most prestigious in the contemporary art world.

Borja-Villel’s leadership was polarizing, with critics issuing complaints regarding the museum’s focus on Conceptual art, its international (rather than largely Spanish) collection, and its wall labels and signage meant to educate the public about the works on display. His supporters point to his elevation of modern and contemporary Spanish artists both famous and unknown and to his promotion of Latin American art, as well as to his politically astute curation and his successful endeavors to situate the Reina Sofía as an internationally renowned contemporary art institution. Borja-Villel notably staged a complete rehang of the museum’s collection in 2021.

Following his departure, Borja-Villel will concentrate on cocurating the 2023 São Paulo Bienal, which is set to open in September.

This article has been updated to reflect statements provided to Artforum by Manuel Borja-Villel and the Museo Reina Sofía, as well reporting from other outlets.

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