Gavin Delahunty, senior curator of contemporary art at the Dallas Museum of Art, has left his post after three years at the museum. Reason given: allegations and their potential for distraction. Later he sends his deepest apologies to those who have been affected. To recap, here’s the statement:
Today I am announcing my resignation as the Hoffman Family Senior Curator of Contemporary Art at the Dallas Museum of Art, effective immediately. I am aware of allegations regarding my inappropriate behavior, and I do not want them to be a distraction to the Museum or to my colleagues. I offer my deepest apologies to those who have been affected by my behavior. I will be taking this time to spend with my family.
Communications staff at the museum have declined to comment further on Delahunty’s behavior, and no one from the DMA could be reached to address the wording of the statement itself.
Delahunty put together Truth: 24 Frames Per Second, the exhibition of video art and film work on view now at the museum. That was his job, for which he was qualified. Also his job: assembling a collection of lesser-seen Pollock paintings, and acquiring “major” and “monumental” artwork, as the Dallas Morning News and Art&Seek tell it. It’d be easy to say the ambiguity of the statement left the field wide open for reporters to praise the contributions of this public figure. Citing allegations, however vague, low-key posits Delahunty as the victim first before he apologizes. In that way the statement’s not really ambiguous — the allegations were the problem, as it describes, even when Delahunty then confirms the behavior on which the allegations were based with an apology.
Confusing, sure. Limiting, yes, for those who share the news and want to do so with context of other “inappropriate behavior” within the art world throughout history that should make revelations of such behavior less surprising. There are so many different kinds of inappropriate behavior, though, and to tie a certain behavior to Delahunty could be considered libel. A conversation needs to happen locally about all manner of inappropriate behavior in the art world, in the contemporary art world, in Dallas. Let’s not allow the museum’s choice to release a statement so prohibitively worded shut down that conversation.
UPDATE, Monday, 11 a.m.:
ArtNews updated a post on Saturday citing a source familiar with the museum who confirmed an investigation by outside counsel had been ongoing.
On November 13, ArtNews published an essay by New York-based painter Natalie Frank describing multiple men who’d taken advantage of their positions of power within the art world to corner and harass her. The instances included unwanted sexual comments and advances by a “curator from a powerful institution” who was married with small children – and had gathered a reputation to warrant the nickname prefix “Grabbin.” I’ve reached out to Frank, DMA Director of Communications Jill Bernstein and the museum’s director, Agustín Arteaga, with this same information and a request for comment, and have not yet heard back.
“Recently, I had a run-in with a curator from a powerful institution, whose work I truly admired. After a studio visit during which he dangled offers of acquisition, collector support, and introductions, we met for drinks, as planned, at a public bar. I inquired about his wife and small children, and we discussed our many mutual professional colleagues. I generally drink very little if at all in professional situations like this—I’m always careful to cover my arms, even, something most women I know are aware of having to do. Following a bottle of wine for him (sparkling water for me—I was on antibiotics), the evening ended up in a not-so-comic game of Pictionary, as he announced that he’d discovered a hidden image of a giant cock and balls in the marble fireplace. Time to go, I decided. After I left, he sent me text messages, including the word “Grrrrrrr!,” asking me to stay with him. No follow-up about my work, no appearance at my opening. I kept quiet, thinking, well, sometimes people drink too much; but then I learned that this wasn’t the first time he had done this. I have spoken to a member of the museum’s board, to outside legal counsel, and in a statement to the museum. I know I’m not alone; his reputation for impropriety is known, earning him the prefix “Grabbin” added to his name. Here’s hoping the institution will do the right thing.”
It would not be surprising if more than one large institution were undergoing the same vetting of its leaders. In any case, artists and others who’ve experienced or witnessed behavior like this and want to speak about it can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
UPDATE, Monday, 1:20 p.m.:
This reply comes via email from DMA Communications Director Jill Bernstein: “The Museum does not disclose information regarding personnel matters. We take any allegation of misconduct very seriously, and draw in legal and other specialized counsel to work with us as needed.”