Beatrix Ruf—one of the most influential curators working today—sent shockwaves through the art world when she abruptly resigned as director of Amsterdam’s Stedelijk Museum in September. Her departure followed a series of investigative reports in the Dutch newspaper NRC Handelsblad that raised questions about her ties to private collectors, an art advisory company she operated while leading the museum, and other potential conflicts of interest.
As the prices for contemporary art have ballooned, a growing number of wealthy people are willing to pay top dollar for advice from curators working at prestigious and tastemaking institutions. Indeed, the New York Timesreported that Swiss collector Michael Ringier paid Ruf 1 million Swiss Francs ($1 million) as a “thank-you gift” for their 20-year working relationship before she arrived in Amsterdam.
But the Ruf imbroglio has also made some reexamine the relationships that have long existed between collectors and curators. In light of the rising stakes, do the old rules still apply? And how closely were they ever really followed in the first place?