Bridges promises ‘steady hand’ as acting director of Broad Art Museum
For the MSU Broad Art Museum, a fourth transition to the top in 10 years is hardly a transition, according to key members of MSU administration, museum staff and its advisory board.
Monica Ramírez-Móntagut, director of the museum since July 2020, was named director of the Parrish Art Museum of Long Island in June. Steven Bridges, a six-year Broad veteran and curator of several key exhibitions, took over as interim director last Wednesday (July 6). The search for a new permanent director will begin in the fall, according to MSU.
Ramírez-Móntagut is widely credited with bringing a greater variety of art, a friendlier face, and a strong ethic of connection to college and community to MSU Broad.
But these and other initiatives predated Ramírez-Móntagut’s arrival and will continue after his departure, said Judith Stoddart, vice provost for academic collections and artistic initiatives at MSU.
“The Broad has really refocused in recent years, and Monica’s hiring was part of that refocus. Monica was hired, based on where we saw the museum move.
In a farewell statement released by MSU, Ramírez-Móntagut said she and the Broad team have helped the museum become “a welcoming institution where many finally feel like they belong.”
Ramírez-Móntagut “will be closer to his family” at the Parrish Art Museum, according to a statement. She has a twin sister who recently moved to New York, among other family members who live there.
“I feel like I’m finally coming home,” Ramírez-Móntagut told online Arts Newspaper.
It’s tempting to conclude that the Broad is under an unlucky star as far as directors go. The museum’s founding director, Michael Rush, died in 2015 after three years at the helm. His successor, Marc-Olivier Wahler, left the Broad in January 2019 to be in Paris with his seriously ill wife. Ramírez-Móntagut’s tenure lasted only two years.
“It’s not an unusual environment,” said Alan Ross, who chairs the Broad’s advisory board. “All over the world, directors are in high demand. There is a revolving door in the position of director, and all museums are suffering from it at the moment. (Ramírez-Móntagut’s predecessor at the Parrish Museum, Kelly Taxter, started as director in March 2021 and stepped down in December of that year.)
“People are building their resumes, moving from one organization to another,” said Jordan Sutton, a member of the museum’s advisory board. “That’s just the state of the industry right now. Being in the Midwest isn’t necessarily someone’s last stop.
“We were sorry to lose Monica, but it’s just one of those things that happens,” Stoddart said. “Many of our initiatives do not depend on the director. They are integrated into the staff.
As interim director, Bridges embodies many of the “integrated” qualities cited by Stoddart, including “large thematic exhibitions that bring the collection together with significant and significant works from other galleries.”
Several major recent exhibitions, all curated or co-curated by Bridges, have linked art to culture, history and science and included strong local components. “Interstates of Mind” dove deep into automotive culture and blended fine art with Lansing’s automotive history; “Seeds of Resistance” has woven a tapestry of artistic and scientific themes around MSU’s horticultural research heritage; “Free Your Mind” explored the theme of mass incarceration and included an art exhibit by people incarcerated in Michigan. The current “History Told Slant” exhibition features centuries of art from the museum’s permanent collection, including the former Kresge Art Museum, as well as major works on loan from other museums.
These exhibits and others involved dozens of relationships with a wide range of MSU colleges and local organizations such as the Greater Lansing Historical Society and the Prison Creative Arts Project in Ann Arbor.
At the same time, the museum has expanded its educational programs, inside and outside the university, to the point of serving thousands of students a year, from kindergarten through 12th grade up to post-graduate.
“Educational programs that reach underserved students across Michigan will continue,” Stoddart said. “These are things that the public doesn’t often see.”
Bridges said he hopes to provide a “steady hand in this time of transition” and “not only continue to maintain the relationships we’ve built over time, but break bread and forge new relationships.”
Sutton said Bridges was “not a placeholder”.
“It’s important to me that he lives here and his family is here,” Sutton said. “He understands what people are looking for and he’s been listening since he’s been here.”
Bridges has lived with her family in the east side of Lansing since moving here six and a half years ago.
“In past situations, when we had a vacuum, a need for an interim manager, I felt that was holding back progress,” Sutton said. “Not this time. Steven has both a global and a local vision. He will continue to search both spaces for connections that match that vision.
Although he plans to continue his conservation work, Bridges is most looking forward to weaving the Broad more tightly into MSU and the wider community.
“I find great joy in connecting with people and learning what they like, and sometimes what they might not like, about the work we do,” Bridges said. “It’s a job I would have done even if I had been acting director. There are incredible opportunities for growth in the coming months and I look forward to all of this.
A lasting legacy of Ramírez-Móntagut’s tenure is the Open Storage Project, a 4,000 square foot space on the lower level of the Broad that will feature 5,000 works from the museum’s permanent collection, formerly the Kresge Art Museum collection.
Bridges thanked Ramírez-Móntagut for “making this dream a reality”.
“For me, this significantly addresses one of our long-standing issues, which is having a more permanent place for our collection,” Bridges said. “Monica deserves full credit for that, and I was a huge supporter. Now we have the ability to drive it forward and make sure we do it right.
Bridges hopes construction will begin in “a year to a year and a half” after a carefully considered design process.
In the meantime, the Broad’s 10th anniversary show, which kicks off September 10, promises to be a spectacular parting gift from Ramírez-Móntagut. The exhibition will feature an array of objects designed by the Broad Museum’s visionary architect, the late Zaha Hadid, ranging from a prototype automobile to jewelry, clothing, furniture and other objects, along with sketches, paintings and videos of product designs and concepts. The one-of-a-kind fusion of a museum building and its contents was co-curated by Ramírez-Móntagut, who is also an architect, and Woody Yao of Zaha Hadid Design.
A search committee for a permanent director will likely be formed in the fall, according to Stoddart.
Ross said he’d like to see a director “who has years of directing experience, who’s been to well-known institutions, who knows what it takes to put on a show.”
He pitted those criteria against former directors Michael Rush and Marc-Olivier Wahler, whose expertise he called “very specific.” Both directors had solid experience in contemporary art.
“I want to see someone who understands all genres, from ancient antiques to contemporary art created in the last week and barely known emerging artists,” Ross said.
“You hire a director based on the vision you have for the museum,” Stoddart said. “Our goal is for the Broad to be an institution engaged in the community, and that’s what we’re looking for, whether it’s someone from the area or someone from further afield.”
The Broad is unlikely to hire another top contemporary art theorist like Wahler, who hit the town with a splashy magic-themed exhibition when he took over the Broad but was unsuccessful. to connect deeply with MSU and the wider community.
In a June 8 article about Ramírez-Móntagut’s selection as director of the Parrish Art Museum, Zachary Small of The New York Times pointed out that regional institutions like the Parrish have struggled to recruit and retain leadership at the Art Museum. pandemic era, as “visitors have come to expect their museums to act more like community hubs, with greater emphasis on local programming and representation.
Stoddart said it was part of a larger trend in the museum world.
“I see a shift in the types of directors museums are hiring,” Stoddart said. “They research museums to really understand their connection to where they are.”
With his many local connections, Bridges is an obvious choice, but he hasn’t decided whether he will apply for the permanent manager job.
“Of course it’s in my mind, but at this point I really can’t say,” he said. “I’m still grounding myself in the current moment we find ourselves in, and there’s a lot of work to be done.”