San Francisco News

New museum director overshadowed by controversy

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The De Young and Legion of Honor museums have a new director, Colin Bailey, the chief curator at the Frick Collection in New York. However, Wednesday's leadership announcement was somewhat overshadowed by allegations of ongoing problems under the leadership of Board President Dede Wilsey.

It took more than a year and a worldwide search but in the end, Colin Bailey, a highly-regarded curator and expert of European art, was selected to head the Fine Arts Museums which comprises the De Young and Legion of Honor. Wilsey said Wednesday that there will be changes. "The director has the ability to remove anyone he wishes to remove. I'm sure he won't do that right away, but I think that he will make whatever changes he feels will strengthen this museum," she said.

In San Francisco, it's hard not to mention Wilsey and the De Young in the same sentence. After all, she waged a never-before-seen campaign to rebuild the museum using private money. Politicians have long been supportive of her work. "To keep the strong confidence in investing not only in this museum, the Legion of Honor, but in our cultural institutions in general," said San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee.

But following the death of Director John Buchanan 15 months ago, the San Francisco socialite has come under fire over the departure of some staff members and for, some say, overstepping her bounds, all of which she denies. "And I just say to myself, 'Well how ignorant.' I mean where's the problem? If I thought there was a problem, I would certainly address it and if I thought I was the problem, I would remove myself but frankly, we're into enormous success," Wilsey said.

A local newspaper reported that Wilsey even pushed to have one of her son's photography collections shown at the De Young but on Wednesday, she told ABC7 News it was the previous director who organized that exhibit. "I'm told he has one of the finest collections of photography in the U.S. if not the finest," she said.

Wilsey doesn't deny that someone has waged a campaign against her. For example, a sticker mailed to ABC7 News from an anonymous person reads, "dede Young." "Of course, everything's anonymous. If you don't have the guts to put you name on something, I don't think I'd take it seriously. But I think that's very cute," Wilsey said admitting she was glad it said "dede Young" instead of "dede Old."

In the meantime, the reality is that both museums are very successful and incredibly popular. When it comes to attendance, the Fine Arts Museums rank fourth in North America.

Bailey begins his new job on June 1.

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Tags:
de young museum, legion of honor, museums, art, san francisco news, lyanne melendez
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