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Arnold Lehman on Life After the Brooklyn Museum and the Museum’s Life after Arnold

While attending today’s Sneaker Culture press preview, I took the opportunity to ask director Arnold Lehman about his plans after leaving the Brooklyn Museum. (He is due to retire on Aug. 31.)

But first things first, Arnold: Who are you wearing?


Photo by Lee Rosenbaum

Let’s take a closer look:

Photo by Lee Rosenbaum

Photo by Lee Rosenbaum

Lehman told me his feet were clad in Yohji Yamamoto and that he had owned these for a number of years, until they were appropriated by his grandson. He borrowed them back to be strikingly shod for the new exhibition, which opens to the public on Friday.

As for his future plans, Lehman is one of 13 visiting fellows engaged by the Ford Foundation to advance “creativity, social justice and freedom of expression,” as he described it. Others joining him in this quest are Thelma Golden, director of the Studio Museum of Harlem (which recently announced that it will replace its current home with a new David Adjaye-designed facility) and artist Carrie Mae Weems.

The foundation characterizes its visiting fellows program as “an extended conversation, over the course of the year, about the interplay of art and social justice around the world today.” These exchanges are expected to “shed new light on the role of creativity and free expression in shaping a more equitable future for all.”

Arnold’s specific charge, as described by the foundation, is to “conduct research and consider ways to increase the presence of people of color in leadership roles in the museum profession”—a perennial problem that has thus far defied solution.

And there’s another side of Arnold that most people (including me) hadn’t known about. He has a foot in “the for-profit world of asset management,” as a board member of Legg Mason Funds, which on June 1 elevated him from senior director to chairman of the board.

Predictably, Lehman has been approached for art-related consultancies, but has not yet decided which ones to pursue.

One thing he knows for certain: He’s staying in Brooklyn, which he says has become “the center of the world” (presumably, the art world).

Arnold kvelled over Anne Pasternak, his designated successor at the Brooklyn Museum, as “my reward for having been here for 18 years. I’m a great admirer of what she does.”

Lehman added:

She is here actively, speaking to all the staff, going into every nook and cranny of the building and talking to board members.

She’s one of the smartest, most insightful people I know and has dealt with incredibly complex issues. She needs to learn how to get around the city and who to talk to, but she is a great fundraiser and an enormous advocate.

She is coming up to speed really quickly and she shares all the values that we stand for—community, accessibility, collaboration.

As I discussed here, Pasternak had better be a quick study. Although widely admired as president and artistic director of Creative Time, she is devoid of museum-management experience. I remain a skeptic, but hope to be convinced.

As it happens, in the late 1980s, when Lehman was director of the Baltimore Museum, he gave Anne’s artist-husband, Mike Starn and his twin brother, Doug, their first museum show. “So we have three degrees of separation.”

For now, though, he should do a triumphant victory lap in his snazzy shoes.

Or maybe he should try doing it in these:

Track star Michael Johnson's gold track shoes, worn when he won 2 gold medals at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics Photo by Lee Rosenbaum

Track star Michael Johnson’s gold shoes, worn when he won 2 gold medals at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics
Photo by Lee Rosenbaum

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