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09.11.2006
Eavesdrop: Philip Nobel

It’s not the most prominent cultural institution in town, and it certainly has the smallest footprint on the Manhattan ground, but for intrigue-per-square-foot, no one can beat the Storefront for Art and Architecture.

In March, director Sarah Herda was tapped to replace the late Richard Solomon at the Graham Foundation, trading her spot at the perennially impoverished Kenmare Street organization for a position heading the well-endowed (okay: totally loaded) Chicago powerhouse responsible for underwriting a shockingly high percentage of all American architectural research. Since then, Storefront’s board of directors (which includes AN founderWilliam Menking, who has isolated himself from the reporting and editing of this story) has been engaged in a wide-ranging and sometimes contentious search for a replacement.

As many as “sixteen to eighteen worth-looking-at candidates” applied, according to Storefront president Belmont Freeman, who confirmed that, after a board meeting on August 7 (during which assistant curator Yasmeen Siddiqui was officially named acting director), the search committee has winnowed the hopefuls down to “a short list of three.” Other sources said the list was already down to only two: architect and writer (for this publication, among others)Olympia Kazi and 28-year-old Berlin-based curator Anselm Franke. Others said to have applied in the still-secret process include New York writer and gallerist Henry Urbach (before he took the design curator’s job at SFMOMA), Van Alen Institute senior curator Zoe Ryan, and Temple Hoyne Buell Center program coordinator Salomon Frausto,

“We’re very encouraged, because we know we’ll end up with someone good,” Freeman said, while also trying to quell rampant rumors about intramural tension over the search. “I wouldn’t call it ‘tension’,” he said. “But it has been the occasion for a lot of soul-searching.”

The cause of the purportedly untense soul-searching—we’ve heard otherwise—is Storefront’s size; small in budget as well as space (the whole gallery, designed by Steven Holl and Vito Acconci, only occupies 950 square feet), directorial and curatorial duties have been shared by a single person since it was founded by Kyong Park in 1982. “Because it’s such a tiny organization, the person has to combine curatorial vision with directorial strength and a good dash of fundraising charisma,” Freeman said.

In the current search, a faction of the board that favors a more fiscally responsible future has been militating to select a director with a proven record of management, while another group has favored a more “visionary” curator. Franke, identified by many as the leading candidate, is seen as member of the latter camp—a thinker first and an administrator second—the search committee’s interest in him sparked several tense moments over the summer. Meanwhile Franke, who could not be reached for comment, is said to be balking at the potential salary offered. Several sources familiar with the proceedings allege that a deal has been discussed in which Franke might be lured to New York only by the promise of a package deal—the director job at Storefront plus a contract to teach at Columbia University—a twofer possibly brokered in-house by pillow-talking power couple Beatriz Colomina (a Storefront trustee) andMark Wigley (dean of the Columbia’s GSAPP, my alma mater).

Freeman said the new director will be announced after the September board meeting—“we’re close to making a decision”—but other sources said it could be “months.” So stay tuned for future installments of The Annals of Narrowly Avoiding Conflict of Interest….

Philip Nobel