Just-announced Whitney Biennial co-curator Jay Sanders worked as an art dealer at Chelsea’s Greene Naftali until the beginning of this month, significantly more recently than the New York Times reported on its website on Thursday and in Friday’s newspaper. The Whitney announced the curators of the 2012 biennial in Carol Vogel’s weekly New York Times notebook. Vogel erroneously reported that Sanders (at right) was a director at Greene Naftali “until 2005.”
According to Vogel, Sanders has undertaken “more curatorial endeavors,” since 2005, including a 2008 exhibition at New York’s White Columns, a non-profit kunsthalle. In a press release posted on its website, the Whitney describes Sanders as having been a director at Greene Naftali “from 2005 until recently.” Sanders will co-curate the exhibition with the Whitney’s Elisabeth Sussman.
Numerous online sources indicate that Sanders worked at Greene Naftali this year: Greene Naftali’s listings at last month’s Frieze Art Fair and at this year’s forthcoming Art Basel Miami Beach fair both identify Sanders as being affiliated with the gallery. Updated, 11:05am EST: Greene Naftali director Alexandra Tuttle tells me that Sanders left the gallery at the beginning of November. The beginning of this post and its headline have been updated with this information.
“Working in a gallery was only one chapter in his life,” Whitney chief curator Donna De Salvo told the Times. “He is also known as an independent curator.” It is not clear how “independent” an independent curator can be when he is working as a dealer, representing a specific stable of artists.
Sanders’ immediately recent affiliation with Greene Naftali raises serious questions about the coziness between the Whitney Biennial and New York’s commercial art world — and Greene Naftali in particular — as well as questions about the independence of the exhibition and its curators. The Whitney’s selection of Sanders also raises questions about how artists who have had a commercial relationship with Sanders and his gallery will be treated vis-a-vis those who have not.
Museums, particularly museums that show contemporary art, derive much of their credibility from their independence, their ability to show work that they think is important regardless of its commercial viability. No matter whether curators are organizing biennials, survey shows or retrospectives, art museums typically expect curators to have backgrounds as scholars, critics or academics. For decades, museums have typically preferred that curators be free of commercial entanglements that could influence or impact their curatorial decisions.
The Whitney is not the only New York museum to have work with curators who have roots in New York’s commercial art world. Last November the New York Times’ Deborah Sontag reported on a “dizzyingly insular circle” of curatorial-commercial connections at the New Museum.