The Guggenheim Museum in New York announced today, January 14, that it has named Naomi Beckwith as its deputy director and chief curator. In the role, Beckwith will replace long-time Guggenheim curator Nancy Spector, who resigned in October of last year amid accusations of racism, sexism, and other toxic practices against the museum’s top leadership.
Beckwith joins the Guggenheim after working in various curatorial posts at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, most recently as a senior curator. During her 10-year tenure at the MCA, she curated and co-curated exhibitions like Howardena Pindell: What Remains to Be Seen (2018), The Freedom Principle: Experiments in Art and Music, 1965 to Now (2015), and Homebodies (2013), among others. Prior to that, she worked as an associate curator at New York’s Studio Museum in Harlem, where she organized exhibitions including Lynette Yiadom-Boakye: Any Number of Preoccupations (2011) and 30 Seconds off an Inch (2009–10).
In her new role at the Guggenheim, Beckwith will oversee collections, exhibitions, publications, curatorial programs, and archives. As a high-ranking member of the museum’s executive leadership, she will participate in shaping the institution’s strategies and vision. When Beckwith enters the new position in early June, she will be the first Black woman in the role.
In a statement, Beckwith said: “One cannot overstate the iconicity and consequence of the Guggenheim Museum — yet, refusing to rest on its laurels, it readily presents projects that disrupt art history’s mythologies.”
“I’m excited to join the Guggenheim and its passionate team at a pivotal moment,” she added. “I look forward to merging our shared goals of expanding the story of art, and also working to shape a new reality for arts and culture.”
Beckwith’s appointment comes months after a group of current and former workers known as A Better Guggenheim called for the removal of the museum’s top three executives: Spector, Director Richard Armstrong, and Senior Deputy Director and Chief Operating Officer Elizabeth Duggal.
Last summer, the group released a letter to the board demanding concrete steps to “dismantle the systemic racism” at the museum. The letter centered on the experience of Chaédria LaBouvier, who curated the 2019 exhibition Basquiat’s “Defacement”: The Untold Story. LaBouvier has accused Spector of excluding her from key aspects of the exhibition planning and taking credit for her work, calling it “the most racist professional experience of my life” in a tweet.
Welcoming Beckwith into the position, director Richard Armstrong said in a statement: “Her expertise will be invaluable in advancing and amplifying an inclusive range of perspectives within the Guggenheim collection and culture. We look forward to working with her to develop avenues for new research and programming, and to create powerful and meaningful ways to deepen engagement with modern and contemporary art.”