Fine Arts Museums await new director

S.F. EXAMINER FILE PHOTO
Diane B. Wilsey
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The troubled Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco may soon name a new director to fill the position, which has been vacant since the death of John Buchanan in December 2011.
Although officials for the de Young Museum and Legion of Honor have not responded to repeated questions about a report that Colin Bailey, deputy director and chief curator of the Frick Collection in New York, will be named to the post, FAMSF spokesman Ken Garcia sent an email to KQED’s Forum radio program Wednesday morning, requesting that discussion of the museums be “postponed until next week when we expect to make a major announcement.”
Forum host Michael Krasny read the note from Garcia, and went on with an interview of FAMSF curator emeritus Robert Flynn Johnson and New York Times arts writer Patricia Cohen about recent news reports that the museums are facing serious management and morale problems.
In another unusual development, last week, the FAMSF Board of Trustees Executive Committee voted to cancel a scheduled meeting for March 14. Board chair Diane B. Wilsey could not be reached for comment.
Heidi Rosenau, head of media relations for the Frick Collection, told The Examiner that Bailey is traveling and not available. She referred questions to the FAMSF public relations department.
Bailey has been chief curator of the Frick since 2000, when he narrowly lost the competition for the museum's directorship.  He previously worked at the Getty Museum, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Kimbell Art Museum, and the National Gallery of Canada, where he was deputy director and chief curator.
He specializes in 18th- and 19th-century French painting, a genre which Wilsey favors and collects. Bailey, who holds a doctorate in art history from the University of Oxford, has been named Chevalier de L'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres in 1994 for his contribution to French culture and was promoted to Officier in 2010.
During today's KQED discussion, both Johnson and Cohen echoed concerns about the museums’ current operations, and lack of director, raised in an article by Cohen published last week. 
Johnson, employed for three decades at FAMSF,  was especially critical of the dismissal, or forcing out, of several leading veteran curators, including Lynn Federle Orr, a curator of European art for 29 years.
“The loyal staff,” said Johnson, “conducting scholarly business, is walking on egg shells because if they can fire Lynn Orr…” 
Responding to a previous denial by Wilsey that she is in charge of dismissals, Johnson asked, if in the absence of a director, and the board chair not involved, “Does the staff fire itself?”

 

 

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