Curators at the Guggenheim sent a powerful letter to the museum’s leadership Monday, demanding changes to what’s described as “an inequitable work environment that enables racism, white supremacy, and other discriminatory practices.” Signed by “the Curatorial Department” for fear of retaliation, the letter was specifically addressed to Richard Armstrong, the museum’s director; Elizabeth Duggal, senior deputy director and chief operating officer; Sarah G. Austrian, general counsel; and Nancy Spector, artistic director and chief curator, per the New York Times.
Among their calls to “put an end to the culture of favoritism, silencing, and retribution” and to review hiring practices, the curators also asked the museum to commission an independent investigation into last year’s Basquiat exhibition, where the guest curator, art historian Chaédria LaBouvier, was not invited to speak on the museum’s panel discussion with other scholars. She accused the Guggenheim of snubbing and undermining her, a sentiment the curators echo in anonymous comments appended to the letter. “While many of us saw our own experiences reflected in her mistreatment, we did not speak up and were complicit in our silence,” one comment read. “We cannot move forward with any credibility until we offer her a sincere, unqualified, public apology.”
In a statement obtained by the Times, Armstrong stressed that they are “listening.” “Their effort to make change is an opportunity for us to engage in a beneficial dialogue to become a more diverse, equitable and welcoming organization for all,” he said. On Monday, he held a Zoom conference with some of the museum’s 22 curators, after receiving the letter. A spokesperson also confirmed that Spector, the museum’s chief curator, is going on a three-month sabbatical on July 1, though the decision has no apparent connection to the letter. The Guggenheim is one of many institutions across New York and around the world that is being forced to not just listen, not just reflect, but to actually work against racism.