Museum director resigns

Contemporary head taking post in N.Y.

July 29, 2005|By Glenn McNatt | Glenn McNatt,SUN ART CRITIC

The Contemporary Museum director who helped revive the once-ailing institution and enhance its profile as a venue for cutting-edge art in Baltimore is leaving to become director of the art museum at Purchase College in Purchase, N.Y.

Thom Collins, a former assistant curator of photography at New York's Museum of Modern Art and a senior curator at the Contemporary Art Center in Cincinnati, was hired as the Contemporary's director in November 2003. Located at 100 W. Centre St., the small museum had struggled for years to raise money and attract audiences.

Collins is departing to lead the Neuberger Museum of Art at Purchase, part of the State University of New York system.

"Thom Collins has moved the Contemporary Museum significantly forward," said Contemporary board President Thomas F. O'Neil III in a statement.

"Under Thom's superb leadership we have doubled our membership, presented noteworthy exhibitions and engaged the community in meaningful discussions about contemporary art and culture. We wish him well in what will quite clearly be an illustrious career."

O'Neil said a search committee has been formed to look for a new director. Meanwhile, Collins will remain at the museum until the fall. The board expects to name an interim director before Collins departs for New York.

Collins' 20-month tenure at the Contemporary saw it bounce back from a doldrums under former director Gary Sangster, who left in 2002 after his contract was not renewed.

Today, the museum is back on firm financial footing, with an annual budget of about $650,000, O'Neil said, up from $250,000 when Collins arrived.

In addition to increasing its membership from less than 200 to a little more than 500, Collins supervised imaginative exhibitions of contemporary German painting, photography and film by British artist Isaac Julian, recent work by New York-based installation artist Sanford Biggers and a show of mostly conceptual art on the theme of patriotism.

The Julian exhibition included a residency project that was undertaken by the museum in collaboration with the Walters Art Museum.

Collins also planned an ambitious schedule of future exhibitions that will include a one-person show in February by internationally renowned artist Louise Bourgeoise and collaborative projects by seven resident artists that will open in April.

The museum's current show, Beautiful Losers, is a three-part exploration of the influence of street culture and graffiti on contemporary art that runs through Sept. 24. It has drawn mixed critical responses but has generated enthusiasm among younger audiences.

"I've found a really wonderful and productive time here in Baltimore," Collins said this week.

"The Contemporary is on very firm footing with a strong and committed board, talented staff and more than a year of truly extraordinary programs on the books," he added. "Only an opportunity as good as the one I've been offered at the Neuberger could tear me away."

The Neuberger Museum, which owns important collections of modern, contemporary and African art, was established in 1974 with a donation of 108 works of postwar art from collector Roy R. Neuberger.

Today it owns about 6,000 artworks and is the 10th-largest college art museum in the country. Recent exhibitions have included landscapes by April Gornik and installation art by Doug and Mike Starn and British sculptor Andy Goldsworthy.

Collins will replace former Neuberger director Lucinda Gedeon, who led the museum for 13 years before resigning last July to become executive director of the Vero Beach Museum of Art in Vero Beach, Fla.

Officials at Purchase expressed delight at Collins' appointment.

"We're very excited about him," said Purchase College President Thomas J. Schwarz. "We had a search firm do a very thorough national and international search and at the end of the day he was the clear choice."

The Contemporary was founded in 1989 by Baltimorean George Ciscle as a "museum without walls" that presented temporary exhibitions in alternative spaces such as an empty bus garage and a vacant strip mall store.

In 1999, the museum moved into a permanent home at 100 W. Centre St. and began mounting regular exhibitions of established and emerging contemporary artists.

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