Why Did Radical Director Laura Raicovich Resign from New York's Queens Museum?

A report commissioned by the museum claims Raicovich ‘misled’ the board; she disputes the investigation’s claims

Laura Raicovich. Courtesy: Queens Museum, New York; photograph: Michael Angelo

Laura Raicovich. Courtesy: Queens Museum, New York; photograph: Michael Angelo

Laura Raicovich. Courtesy: Queens Museum, New York; photograph: Michael Angelo

Laura Raicovich, who quit as president and executive director of New York’s Queens Museum in January over differences between the board and her political commitments, has responded to an investigation by the museum which alleges that she misled the board. A document sent to frieze, titled ‘Summary of Findings’, produced by New York law firm Katten Muchin Rosenman (employed by the museum’s board), makes extraordinary claims about the former director, after reviewing more than 6,000 emails and over 20 interviews in a three-month investigation. The document concludes that Raicovich and deputy director David Strauss ‘knowingly misled’ the board and 'failed to comport themselves with the standards consistent with their positions’.

The results of the investigation, the document claims, led the board to ask Raicovich and Strauss to resign. In a statement sent to frieze, Raicovich says the report ‘further illustrates the misalignment between me and the board of the Queens Museum and the reasons I chose to resign. I never participated in misleading the board and the decision to resign was entirely my own’. Raicovich said she wished the museum well: ‘I continue to support the wonderful work of the Queens Museum, which began long before I joined its ranks and will continue far into the future.’

The board’s investigation was triggered by an incident last year in which Raicovich vetoed the museum hosting an Israeli government event celebrating a UN vote establishing the nation’s founding, at which Mike Pence was a keynote speaker (after an outcry the event was later reinstituted, which Pence attended). The report claims that Strauss told the board that it was museum policy not to rent space to political events, ‘which was not true’.

In discussing what it regards as a broader pattern of misconduct, the report also details Raicovich’s role as co-editor of Assuming Boycott: Resistance, Agency, and Cultural Production (OR Books, 2017), a volume which collects articles discussing the intersection between art and global boycotts. The document claims that Raicovich did not alert the museum board to her involvement in the book’s production. The investigation alleges that many of the essays in Assuming Boycott support the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement, which it says ‘overtly targets the State of Israel’. The report also says that Raicovich paid one of her fellow co-editors using museum funds. John Oakes, co-publisher of OR Books (and in-house editor of Assuming Boycott) told frieze: ‘that the book has emerged as ‘evidence’ against Raicovich emphasizes how the forces of reaction are flummoxed by something they can't jail, wall off, or otherwise eliminate by decree. Cultural boycott has proven its worth as a powerful tool for peaceful, thoughtful activists, and it looks to remain such for years to come.’

The investigation follows a significant show of support for the museum’s former director. An open letter was published earlier this month in which leading US curators defended Raicovich's leadership. Initiated by Carin Kuoni, director and chief curator of the New School’s Vera List Center for Art and Politics (and another co-editor of Assuming Boycott), the letter stated: ‘We call on the boards of our cultural institutions to embrace the civic role of our institutions by supporting and empowering courageous and caring leaders such as Laura Raicovich, regardless of their gender. This is more necessary now than at any other point since the civil rights era in the 1950s and 1960s.’

In an email to frieze, Kuoni said the book Assuming Boycott ‘was conceived of as a much-needed resource’ which ‘does not advocate for but tries to explain boycott’, and discusses a wide variety of case studies, including Apartheid in South Africa as well as BDS: ‘These calls for boycott affect all cultural workers, and whether we subscribe to them or not, we need to develop a deeper understanding of how they work and what is at stake.’ Kuoni said she strongly rejected the notion that criticism of Israel’s policies in the Occupied Territories amounted to anti-Semitism, and said that the decision not to host a celebration marking the UN vote to establish the state of Israel at the museum could not be considered anti-Semitic. Kuoni said that Raicovich’s track record at the museum ‘is exemplary’.

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