UPDATE: Elderfield’s response is here.
Can you be a museum curator and a commercial-gallery consultant at the same time? The conflict-of-interest potential seems obvious, but possibly not to the Princeton University Art Museum and John Elderfield. They recently announced that the chief curator emeritus of painting and sculpture at the Museum of Modern Art, who now organizes exhibitions for Gagosian Gallery, has been named distinguished curator and lecturer at the Princeton University Art Museum, effective Feb. 1.
In response to my query as to whether Elderfield would continue as a consultant to Gagosian while working for Princeton, Erin Firestone, manager of marketing and public relations for the Princeton University Art Museum, replied, “John’s consultancy with Gagosian to develop exhibitions is open-ended [emphasis added]. We are unaware of any [Gagosian] exhibitions planned after the “In the Studio” show, which is set to open on Feb. 17.”
The conflict-of-interest provisions in the professional guidelines of the Association of Art Museum Curators state the following (on p. 19):
It is strongly recommended that curators not act as dealers, be employed by dealers, or retain an interest in a dealership [emphasis added]….
Outside employment should not be accepted if it creates a conflict of interest or even the appearance of a conflict of interest with the museum’s policy on outside employment. If the museum does not have such a policy, curators should encourage administrators to put one in place.
My respect for John’s scholarly and curatorial achievements is immense and his new academic home should provide an ideal outlet for his talents. But as this consummate museum professional should know, Elderfield can’t play the field: Upon returning to the nonprofit world, he needs to sever commercial ties. They can’t remain “open-ended.”
My hope is that, notwithstanding what I was told by Princeton’s spokesperson, that may indeed be his plan. I have a query in to Elderfield about this. If and when I learn more, you’ll learn more.
At Princeton, Elderfield will deliver “a series of public lectures in the spring and is expected to teach his first course in European modern art in the fall of 2015,” according to the university’s announcement. As it happens, his position is being endowed by a veteran art dealer (not Gagosian)—Frances Beatty Adler, president of Richard Feigen and Co., and her husband Allen.