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Director's Brief Stay at Dia Is Over

Posted By Administration, Saturday, March 01, 2008
Updated: Monday, January 13, 2014

Only nine months after taking over, Jeffrey Weiss has resigned as director of the Dia Art Foundation, saying he had realized he was not cut out for the job.

Mr. Weiss, 49, had been recruited to get the foundation back on track after a series of reversals, including an aborted effort to open an exhibition space in the meatpacking district of Manhattan.


But in a telephone interview on Friday, he said he had decided that he was ill suited to the administrative burdens of the director's post.

"It took me too far away from curatorial and scholarly work," Mr. Weiss said. "I had an idea that being director of Dia would be different because it is such a small place." Leaving, he added, "is best for Dia as well as for me."

The news is yet another setback for this troubled institution. Only two years ago its previous director, the charismatic Michael Govan, left to become director of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. That prompted the departure of Dia's board chairman and biggest benefactor, Leonard Riggio.

Nathalie de Gunzburg, the current chairwoman of Dia's board, said Mr. Weiss's departure was a mutual decision. "I'm disappointed," she said. "Jeffrey is so well regarded, and it was nice working with him."

Nonetheless, his exit will not come as a surprise to many in the art world. Some thought Dia and Mr. Weiss were a mismatch from the start.

Mr. Weiss had never run a museum, and his background lay mainly in organizing exhibitions rather than charting an institution's future. He had previously been a top curator at the National Gallery of Art in Washington.

When Ms. de Gunzburg announced his appointment a year ago, she emphasized that Dia's biggest priority was to find an exhibition space in New York City and to develop a program there. So far that goal has not been accomplished. "To find a new building in New York is not easy," she said on Friday.

Nor was Mr. Weiss known for organizing the kind of risk-taking exhibitions that are Dia's trademark. In his 13-year tenure at the National Gallery, where he was most recently in charge of the Modern and contemporary art department, Mr. Weiss was known for more conventional scholarly exhibitions, like "Jasper Johns: An Allegory of Painting, 1955-1965," which was on view there a year ago.

Ms. de Gunzburg said the board did not plan to start a search immediately. "We want to go slowly and carefully," she said.

"We interviewed some good candidates before," she added, referring to the search that resulted in Mr. Weiss's hiring in 2007. We're not in a hurry."

Founded in 1974, Dia is known for supporting ambitious public art projects, some of them site-specific, that might not draw backing from more conventional institutions. In the late 1980s it was also among the first to open an exhibition space in Chelsea, now a booming gallery district.

But it is perhaps best known for the light-drenched space it opened in 2003 under Mr. Govan's stewardship on the site of a former Nabisco box factory in Beacon, N.Y. That space is devoted to work from the 1960s to the present, much of it vast in scale.

Dia oversees three permanent installations in Manhattan: Max Neuhaus's "Times Square," a sound work that can be heard at the intersection of Broadway and Seventh Avenue, at 46th Street, and two projects in SoHo by Walter De Maria, "The New York Earth Room" and "The Broken Kilometer."

But it has no exhibition space in the city. In 2004 it moved out of its two Chelsea buildings, one of which has been sold and the other leased, saying neither was suited for its growing number of visitors.

In May 2005 Dia announced an ambitious plan to open a site on Washington Street in the meatpacking district, near the entrance to the High Line, an abandoned elevated railway line that is being transformed into a park. But by October 2006, after Mr. Riggio stepped down as chairman of Dia's board, it had scrapped the idea. The Whitney Museum of American Art now plans to build a downtown satellite museum at that site.

In May Dia entered into a four-year collaboration with the Hispanic Society of America, presenting a series of projects by contemporary artists to be installed in the society's Beaux-Arts home at Audubon Terrace, on Broadway and 155th Street in Washington Heights. The first show, an installation of the artist Francis Alÿs's collection of portraits of St. Fabiola, opened in September.

Known for its pioneering spirit, Dia has always done things differently from other art institutions. It was founded by the German art dealer Heiner Friedrich; his wife, the Houston arts patron Philippa de Menil; and Helen Winkler, a Houston art historian. They started out simply buying works they loved, by artists like Andy Warhol, Dan Flavin, Donald Judd, Walter De Maria, Joseph Beuys, Cy Twombly, John Chamberlain and Fred Sandback.

Over the years it focused on specific artists who rose to prominence in the 1960s and '70s, adding major sculptures by Mr. Judd, Richard Serra and Michael Heizer to its collections. It also commissioned a series of paintings by Agnes Martin.

Most of this collection is housed at Dia:Beacon, about 60 miles north of Manhattan on the Hudson.

Asked what his next step would be, Mr. Weiss said he had no immediate plans. "My hope is to return to curatorial and scholarly work," he said. "But right now I'm taking a breath."

By Carol Vogel
For The New York Times

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