Having a blast learning all about Dede Wilsey. (Larry Sultan photo) pic.twitter.com/T7ebXUhmpz— Britton (@br_tton) August 2, 2016
In the ongoing saga surrounding wealthy SF socialite Dede Wilsey and her embattled position ruling over the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco i.e. the deYoung and the Legion of Honor the New York Times now weighs in with a piece that's pointed in its criticism of Wilsey while also somehow sounding superior when it comes to the management of cultural institutions in other cities, like New York.
They recount the drama of the last year, following the whistleblower case surrounding the $457,000 payment to a former employee that Wilsey has allegedly repaid to the museums out of pocket, and the revelation last week that Wilsey is being forced to step down as Board President and CEO, dual positions she has held since 2013 and she has served as Board President for a total of 20 years. And they quote some of Wilsey's enemies, like curator emeritus Robert Flynn Johnson, who last week called Wilsey's management style "dictatorial and arbitrary," saying the museums existed these past three years in "a state of Orwellian dysfunction."
They also quote other museum world people like Hugh Davies, director of the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego, who puts it bluntly: "What I find particularly scandalous is that other trustees at the museum didn’t recognize how highly unusual it is to have a board president without term limits... If they allow Dede Wilsey to play any leadership role within the museum, that would be beyond derelict.”
But I have to call bullshit on the Times' lede: "No other city in America mixes high society and cultural philanthropy quite like San Francisco..." Oh, please. High society rules over every museum in New York, give me a break.
Wilsey gave the Times her own quote suggesting her battle isn't over. "I have not been asked to step down and am not planning to retire. I am greatly looking forward to working with our wonderful new director, Max Hollein, who has exciting new ideas for our Museums." She relayed this in an email, declining to give a full interview.
According to the report last week by Matier & Ross at the Chron, Wilsey is expected to step down at the October meeting of the board, and to be replaced by two co-chairs, former Visa President and CEO Carl Pascarella and Jack Calhoun, a former president of Banana Republic.
Until then, it's true, she has not been formally asked to step down, and she remains in her position(s).
Meanwhile, Chronicle art critic Charles Desmarais did his (provincial) best to run to Wilsey's defense over the weekend, calling the minimal press about this insular affair a "pile-on" that is unfair to a woman who single-handedly revived and rebuilt the DeYoung a decade ago. "Having given so much time and treasure, having loved the institution so thoroughly, who can blame her for feeling proprietary?" he writes. Also: "If anyone is to be faulted for the recent errors of judgment at the museums, the trustees must bear a significant part of the responsibility."
Yeah, but what about the $457,000 "error" that they apparently weren't even told about?