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Sheena Wagstaff. Photo: Daniel Dorsa.
Sheena Wagstaff. Photo: Daniel Dorsa.

Sheena Wagstaff to Depart Metropolitan Museum of Art

Sheena Wagstaff, since 2012 the chair of the department of modern and contemporary art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, is leaving the institution this summer, the New York Times reports. Wagstaff is widely credited with elevating the profile of her department during her nearly decadelong tenure at the Met and altering the public perception of the institution. Long dominated by a Eurocentric worldview and previously not known for exhibiting cutting-edge art, under Wagstaff’s guidance the museum in recent years has hosted widely lauded shows of artists including Siah Armajani, Kerry James Marshall, Lygia Pape, Gerhard Richter, and Jack Whitten.

“The vision was to amplify international modernisms beyond the Western Hemisphere, and to significantly rebalance our representation of the most consequential artists of the 20th and 21st centuries, including major works by women artists, and by artists of color from across the world and nearer to home,” Wagstaff told the Times.

Arriving to the Met from London’s Tate Modern, where she had been chief curator since 2001, Wagstaff organized eighty-eight exhibitions and shepherded the department’s acquisition of fourteen hundred objects. In 2013, she inaugurated the Met’s annual rooftop garden commission series: Featuring works by artists including Héctor Zamora, Alicja Kwade, and Huma Bhabha, the series has been a summer highlight and a major attendance booster. In 2019, she originated the Met façade and Great Hall commissions, the inaugural edition of the former featuring a series of bronze sculptures by Wangechi Mutu and the latter comprising two monumental paintings by Ken Monkman.

In a letter to staff, museum director Max Hollein praised Wagstaff. “Sheena has been a true inspiration as a colleague,” he wrote. “She continuously challenges herself and others, always with the purpose of jointly achieving the best result for the institution.”

Wagstaff, who will remain in New York and will continue to work in the arts, chalked up her departure to a long recovery from Covid-19 which forced her to reexamine her priorities. She leaves just as the museum begins a $500 million renovation of the modern and contemporary art wing, to be designed by Mexico City–based architect Frida Escobedo and expected to take at least seven years to complete.

“I take immense pleasure in handing over the baton to a successor who can build on what has been achieved,” Wagstaff told her staff in an email. “I have resolved that this is a good juncture to move on to my next set of goals.”