A year after Neal Benezra's announcement that he would step down as director of SFMOMA, the museum's search committee has selected his replacement: Christopher Bedford, the current director of the Baltimore Museum of Art.
While many in the broader art world had hoped to see a woman or person of color take on the role — especially after a couple of years of race-related controversy and the resignation of a senior curator over a flip comment that some viewed as racially insensitive — Bedford became the search committee's top pick, and he will take on the job starting in June.
In a statement, the museum says that "Expanding the art historical canon is a life-long academic and professional pursuit for Bedford." And, they say, "The list of significant institutional acquisitions made under his leadership of work by artists of color, women artists and artists who identify as LGBTQ+ is vast."
Pamela L. Joyner, a member of SFMOMA’s board who is herself Black and who co-led the search committee, said in a statement to the New York Times, "Chris has done the hard work and has a proven record of success in creating a more inclusive art history. Leveling the playing field takes a boldness for which he is known."
Joyner added, "Though he is not a woman or a person of color, and I understand how that may be an unexpected outcome, I believe he will materially promote the visibility and best interest of those groups based on his past performance."
The Times notes that Bedford has been widely praised for his leadership of the Baltimore Museum of Art, and especially for shows he curated like a Mickalene Thomas commission for the museum's East Lobby in 2019 that transformed the space into a giant living room and gallery for other local artists of color. Bedford was also co-curator of the United States Pavilion at the 2017 Venice Biennale, which highlighted the work of Mark Bradford, a Black gay artist based in L.A.
Thomas gave a quote for SFMOMA's press announcement today about Bedford's appointment, saying, "Chris is a visionary in the art world, an innovative leader who has unapologetically developed a clear mission to bring forth radical change to every institution he has led. I am thrilled to see Chris embark on his new venture as Director of SFMOMA and could not think of a better leader for such an important institution and collection."
Thomas added, "In my own experience working with Chris, I have found his commitment to artists, his intellectual rigor, and his professionalism unparalleled in the art world. His call for institutional and programmatic change and advocacy for artists is a model that should be emulated by all museum leadership."
Bedford comes to SF from a city museum with an endowment less than half the size of SFMOMA's ($197 million versus $500 million), and he'll be working with a much larger annual budget as well ($53.4 million, compared to BMA's $16.9 million).
"I want to thank the search committee for a thoughtful and engaging interview process, which captured a vision for SFMOMA that is grounded in commitments to equity and artistic scholarship," Bedford said in a statement. "These values have been core to my work throughout my career, and I am very much looking forward to collaborating with SFMOMA leadership and staff to further define and develop the museum's mission, priorities and program. This work will by necessity require much listening and learning on my part, and I am excited to begin the process when I arrive in San Francisco in June."
Bedford's selection for the job came after a year-long search process that the museum says involved input from over 300 individuals, including staff, artists, and community leaders.
Bedford joined the Baltimore Museum of Art in 2016, and he previously headed the Rose Art Museum at Brandeis University. Born in Scotland, Bedford was raised in both the U.S. and the U.K. He attended Oberlin College, and received a master’s degree in art history through the joint program at Case Western Reserve University and the Cleveland Museum of Art. He also studied in the doctoral programs in art history at the University of Southern California and the Courtauld Institute of Art at the University of London.