Image credit: Michael Isabell
David Ross is the former director of SFMOMA, the Whitney and other art museums. In this episode he talks about Covid’s impact on the art world and recalls a glorious but ultimately failed attempt to transform Beacon’s 19th and 20th century brick buildings into art repositories.
“I am less concerned about the art market than I am about art schools. Art schools are in real trouble right now,” he says. “Some people believe that the art world is the art market. I don’t. The art market is a subset of the art world and it’s an interesting one. And I love it when artists get rich. Artists make really good rich people. They’re generous. They buy work from younger artists and do good things with their money. But it’s really problematic when people think that the point of art is to make money, or the point of being an artist is to make money. Because it’s not.”
David first visited Beacon shortly after Dia Art Foundation acquired and began work on the Nabisco box printing plant with plans to turn it into a contemporary sculpture museum. David was approached by an architect and art collector named Bill Ehrlich, who had a big idea for the city.
Under Ehrlich’s plan, art collectors like Ileana Sonnabend and Robert Wilson would house their collections in Beacon’s brick factories and other old buildings, including Craig house. David signed on as a consultant.
“Wow, there would be all these great collections stored in Beacon and displayed to the public,” he recalls. “This would have made Beacon a magnet for contemporary art. This would have been unparalleled.”
But problems reared up. One of the key sites for the project, the Tioranda Hat Works in Madam Brett Park, couldn’t be developed. “Things just slowed down,” he says. “The bridge fell apart and couldn’t be rebuilt… Things dragged on and on. Eventually Bill sold it.”
But David has no regrets.
“I’ve lived in amazing places,” he says. “I lived in San Francisco at the top of Telegraph Hill when I was director of SFMOMA. I lived on Madison Avenue when I was director of the Whitney. I lived in Cambridge when I was running the ICA. But I have to say, living in Beacon, this is the first place I’ve ever fallen in love with. This is where I feel I belong.”