Whitney Museum Names Chief Curator

When Scott Rothkopf, the former deputy director and chief curator of the Whitney Museum of American Art, stepped up as director of the New York institution last fall, he knew he would have to hire his replacement in the curatorial area. That role — one of the most influential in the contemporary art world — will be filled, effective next week, by Kim Conaty, the museum’s curator of drawings and prints since 2017. In her new position she will steer the institution’s permanent collection and acquisitions, as well as its exhibitions and conservation activities.

Conaty has a reputation for creating shows that please critics and crowds alike. Her celebrated 2022-2023 exhibition “Edward Hopper’s New York” was among the best-attended in the museum’s history, while the 2023-2024 exhibition of drawings by Ruth Asawa that she organized with another curator was lauded as “revelatory” by The New York Times. As the chief curator, Conaty said she plans to focus on Latino and Indigenous artists, who remain underrepresented in the Whitney’s collection, and invest in emerging talent. But she also intends to slow down the pace of collecting. “Gifts are not free,” she said, referring to the cost of storing and preserving artworks. “We’re being extremely intentional about how we’re building the collection.”

The Whitney has seen significant turnover in recent years. In addition to the departure of its longtime director, Adam D. Weinberg, two high-profile curators — David Breslin and Jane Panetta — decamped for roles at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, while its chief advancement officer, Pamela Besnard, retired last year. Rothkopf has made several new appointments, including promoting the curator Adrienne Edwards to a newly created leadership role as senior curator and associate director of curatorial programs. The chief financial officer I.D. Aruede was promoted to deputy director.

A few weeks ago, Rothkopf had his first taste of controversy as director when the museum was seemingly caught unaware that the artist Demian DinéYazhi’ had slipped a “Free Palestine” message into a flickering neon sign in the Whitney Biennial, which opened on March 20.

Asked about how he and Conaty plan to navigate such bumps in the future, he said, “In appointing Kim, it was important to think about someone who had the sensitivity interpersonally and the intellectual sophistication to help navigate the times that we’re in — I’m not going to be coy about that. These are key attributes for someone at a museum like the Whitney, which is so committed to the art and the ideas of our moment.”

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