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Whitney Biennial co-curator has recent ties to gallery. Jeffrey Deitch, redux?

November 19, 2010 | 12:22 pm

Whitney The worlds of museums and galleries have traditionally maintained a church-and-state type of relationship. Museums exist to serve a scholarly and civic responsibility, while galleries are in it primarily to make money.

But those walls have been breached in recent months, most notably with the appointment of Jeffrey Deitch, a former art dealer, to head the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles. This week, the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York announced that it has appointed Jay Sanders as a co-curator for its 2012 Biennial, acknowledging that Sanders has "recently" worked as a director for the Greene Naftali Gallery.

As reported in the Modern Art Notes blog, Sanders left Greene Naftali at the beginning of this month. The New York Times erroneously reported that Sanders worked at the gallery until 2005. (The newspaper has since run a correction on the article.)

At the heart of the matter is the independence of museum curators who have previously worked as dealers. If the curator has had past commercial ties with certain artists, he or she is seen as having a potential conflict of interest when it comes to selecting art that the museum will showcase.

Sanders, in his role as a gallery director, has worked with artists including Tony Conrad, Paul Sharits, Allen Ruppersberg, Guy de Cointet and others, according to the Whitney.

Sanders will be sharing curatorial responsibilities for the 2012 Biennial with Elisabeth Sussman, who is a photography curator at the Whitney. The museum said that the Biennial, which surveys contemporary American art, is set to go on view in March 2012 and that the list of the selected artists will be announced at the end of 2011 or early 2012.

In an announcement released this week, Donna De Salvo, the Whitney’s chief curator and deputy director for programs, said that Sanders "has demonstrated a highly innovative sensibility, championing the work of emerging artists and older figures who feel newly relevant in our time."

-- David Ng

Photo: The Whitney Museum of American Art in New York. Credit: Los Angeles Times


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