Magazine article Artforum International

Like New

Magazine article Artforum International

Like New

Article excerpt

For much of the '90s, the New Museum of Contemporary Art wasn't high on the list of must-see New York venues. Its feisty glory days a thing of the past, the institution, with its uninviting space and an exhibition program that was spotty at best, seemed ready for a major overhaul. Now, the changes that began with the museum's renovation and expansion as well as the appointment of a new senior curator have led some to think the New Museum may be on the road to respectability. "With the right director," says artist Matthew Ritchie, "the museum could take over the Whitney's mantle." In any event, the New Museum's new chief is taking part of the uptown museum's reputation downtown with her. Lisa Phillips, formerly curator of contemporary art at the Whitney, is succeeding the museum's founder and only other director, Marcia Tucker, who stepped down this spring after twenty-three years at the institution's helm.

Tucker and Phillips have crossed paths before - at the Whitney. It was the first year of Phillips's tenure and Tucker's final one before she headed downtown. "The last show she curated was a Richard Tuttle exhibition," Phillips remembers. "I was an intern, and that exhibition was how I learned about contemporary art." Doubtless Tucker's example influenced a host of younger curators as her politicized and largely performance-based aesthetic gave rise in 1977 to a museum based on a curatorial vision. "It was not a collection, not a foundation," says Dan Cameron, the New Museum's senior curator since 1996. "It was not about a philanthropic relation to art. "By the late '80s, however, with the character of the art world growing slicker and considerably more commercial, the New Museum was no longer living up to its name. It wasn't until Cameron came aboard that observers started to believe things might change. "As the museum kept growing, its ability to operate by surprise, to keep reinventing itself, became more limited," Cameron explains. "In a sense, [Tucker's] tenure was a victim of the success of the museum, which resulted in a squeeze on her time."

"We couldn't clone a Marcia Tucker," says New Museum president Saul Dennison. "We sat down with a committed group of trustees, and defined what we wanted: one part creative, one part administrative. …

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