Not since the sudden, unexplained departure of Timothy Potts from the directorship of the Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth, in 2007 has there been such a shockingly precipitous exit from a major art museum as yesterday’s resignation, effective immediately, of David Franklin from the Cleveland Museum of Art, which he had led since September 2010.
Even Potts (who is now director of the J. Paul Getty Museum) offered to stay on at the Kimbell for three months, “to allow time for his successor to be identified and to ensure a smooth transition.” But Franklin will be only “retained as a consultant for a period of time, in order to insure an orderly transition,” according to the museum’s press release yesterday announcing this dismaying development.
Here’s Franklin’s own statement, appended to the end of the museum’s announcement:
I am proud of the accomplishments that our team has achieved during my tenure. We have raised more than $100 million, opened the unique and innovative Gallery One, and made notable acquisitions and achievements in publications, research and scholarship culminating in the creation of the Keithley Institute for Art History, in collaboration with Case Western Reserve University. I thank every staff member, donor and the Board for helping make those accomplishments possible.
The Museum is on very solid financial footing, with a bright future as one of the world’s finest art collections. Over the past few months, I have concluded that it’s time to spend more time on research and writing. I look forward to working with Fred Bidwell [a member of the museum's board of trustees and now its interim director] to achieve a smooth transition, and to starting work as a consultant on special projects such as the upcoming exhibition, Exporting Florence [my link, not his], scheduled to open in October 2014.
With the museum still planning to celebrate the December opening of its new West Wing for Asian art (one of its collection’s greatest strengths), this couldn’t have come at a more inopportune moment. The West Wing is the final phase of the museum’s Rafael Viñoly-designed $350-million capital expansion.
Caroline Guscott, the museum’s press spokesperson, told me this today:
With regards to how will this affect the opening of the final phase of the expansion—we don’t see any impact at all. The building project is on schedule (Dec. 2013), having come in on time and under budget.
[UPDATE: On Cleveland Public Radio today, Litt reported that a whopping $97 million remains to be raised towards the $350-million capital campaign. My queries to the museum regarding the fundraising progress are still pending.]
Franklin’s exit marks another dizzying spin of the CMA’s chronic revolving-door directionship. As noted yesterday by Steve Litt of the Cleveland Plain Dealer:
Franklin’s departure continues a period of turbulence in [the Cleveland Museum's] leadership. The institution has had four directors since 2000, including Katharine Lee Reid (2000-2005); Timothy Rub (2006-2009); and Deborah Gribbon (2009-2010).
Franklin vanished from his previous post as deputy director and chief curator of the National Gallery of Canada under similarly mysterious circumstances. But soon after he went “on leave” (which eventually became permanent), he instituted legal proceedings against the NGC’s then director, Pierre Théberge. The judge dismissed Franklin’s application for “a judicial review,” the substance of which was not revealed by the judge in his dismissal. [UPDATE: The NY Times has a more detailed account of this contretemps and its complicated aftermath, here and here.]
In the absence of a detailed official explanation for Franklin’s latest departure, speculation (informed or otherwise) may run rampant. In his recent letter to donors (quoted on Judith Dobrzynski‘s Real Clear Arts blog), museum board chairman R. Steven Kestner tried to dampen speculation:
David’s decision was a personal one, so it isn’t appropriate to provide additional detail on the reasons for his departure.
There is no mention in the above-linked official press release, however, of any “personal” motivation behind Franklin’s move.
In any event, the troubling and unusual episodes at two museums suggest that Franklin, widely admired for his curatorial brilliance (and, more recently, for his resourcefulness in saving Cleveland’s current acclaimed loan show from Sicily), may not be ideally suited for administrative roles. Indeed, in his resignation statement at the end of the press release, Franklin expresses his desire “to spend more time on research and writing.”
More (scholarly) power to him. And good luck to Cleveland in finding a keeper this time.