Phoebe Maltz Bovy’s third week-in-review at The Canadian Jewish News

New York bagels in Toronto—some of my best work.

If you’re new to our new senior editor, you can read her introduction.

It seems like every day there’s another story of an esteemed aging professional ousted for displeasing the young’uns. I wrote about one such controversy this week, where a professor on contract was fired for being too harsh an instructor, and took the side of the youths. 

But I’m team old’uns (kind of) on another such story: Helen Lewis’s feature story about a scandal at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York, published by The Atlantic.

Around the time of the 2020 racial reckonings, a chief curator at the Guggenheim lost her job after dubious (and unproven) accusations of racism. The reality sounds like an interpersonal office conflict.

But this conflict happened to take place in the art world, a field that’s historically favoured the rich and white—at a moment when rich white people and institutions found themselves doing panicky damage control. 

What this article conveys so well is the way these firings are not about shaking things up and reversing existing hierarchies. Rather, it’s about “the tendency of the powerful, when faced with rebellion and called to account for their own behaviour, to dump all their errors on a single individual, whose removal then wipes the record clean. Nancy Spector, in other words, was a scapegoat.”

What does any of this have to do with Canadian Jews? Canadian I can’t help you with—apart from that I’m sitting in Toronto reading about it—but Jews, we’re getting there.

Helen Lewis writes: “One of my interviewees noted that a disproportionate number of the senior curators who have departed in difficult circumstances were white women or gay people—groups who rose into leadership positions when those were considered marginalized identities, before their whiteness became more politically salient than their gender or sexuality.”

Or, I would add, their Jewishness: “Spector, now 63, grew up in a middle-class Jewish family in Albany and graduated from the liberal-arts college Sarah Lawrence.”

Lewis didn’t elaborate on this angle—and nor did she need to, for her purposes with all that’s going on in this story—but I will.

Jews have a long historical status as scapegoats for broader societal ills. And so, this curator might’ve been an easier target than, perhaps, a white, male, non-Jewish executive. I’m just speculating here.

Speculating, that is, based on a knowledge of Jewish history and, more specifically, of just how many of the white (or as the kids say, white-adjacent) girlbosses who had 2020 downfalls were Jewish as well. 

Again, from Helen Lewis: “In 2020, Richard Armstrong—the director [and Spector’s boss], who was described as ’nurturing a culture of unchecked racism, sexism, and classism’ by A Better Guggenheim—earned $1.1 million, plus $400,000 in deferred compensation from previous years. This past July, the 73-year-old announced his retirement.“ This, even though “22 accusations were made against Armstrong, and 11 against Spector.”

I don’t know. Just a thought.

Now you can tell Phoebe what you think: pbovy[@]

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