On Tuesday, the findings of an independent investigation into the controversy surrounding an event last summer at the Queens Museum were released; they claim that the institution’s former president and executive director, Laura Raicovich, and its former deputy director, David Strauss, “knowingly misled the Board, and otherwise failed to comport themselves with the standards consistent with their positions.” Raicovich resigned from her position last month and Strauss has been “terminated,” according to the report. The investigation’s findings come after an outpouring of support for Raicovich and her vision for a politically engaged institution.
The event in question, a rental of the museum building to the Permanent Mission of Israel to the United Nations on November 29 of last year for a reenactment of the UN vote 70 years earlier to create the State of Israel — with a keynote speech by US Vice-President Mike Pence — became a flashpoint for accusations of anti-semitism after the museum’s board appeared to cancel and then reinstate the event. The independent study into the incident, conducted pro-bono by the law firm Katten Muchin Rosenman, involved reviewing some 6,000 museum emails and conducting more than 20 interviews.
“I didn’t know the details of the investigation beyond the fact that I was interviewed for several hours on one occasion,” Raicovich told Hyperallergic. “Neither David nor I made any decisions about whether or not to host this event. Those decisions were made by the board, they were voted on by the executive committee, and David and I simply provided background information.”
The findings of the investigation, first reported by the New York Times and a summary of which was provided to Hyperallergic by a spokesperson for the Queens Museum (the summary is available in full here), go far beyond the decisions leading up to last November’s Israel event. The report alleges that Raicovich used the museum’s name and funds to support a Kickstarter project to create an artist-run center in Bethlehem without the board’s approval. Also at issue is an academic book that Raicovich edited, Assuming Boycott: Resistance, Agency, and Cultural Production, published in October 2017. The report claims, among other things, that Raicovich:
… did not disclose her involvement in the book to the Board even though (1) the book prominently identifies her as Director of the Museum, (2) the Foreword she co-wrote states that the goals discussed in the book are “complemented by programs, exhibitions and educational initiatives” at the Museum, (3) she paid one of the co-editors for his work on the book with Museum funds, (4) she placed the book for sale in the Museum’s gift shop.
“They didn’t like that I participated in putting that book together, which came out of a series of very public talks at the New School that were started six months before I started at the museum,” Raicovich told Hyperallergic. “I definitely publicized that I was doing them. So it wasn’t a secret.” According to the Times, she reimbursed the museum for the $4,000 in museum funds that she had paid to one of her co-editors on the project this week.
More than providing concrete answers about any one incident, the report reflects a rapidly souring relationship between Queens Museum’s board and its executive director. Raicovich told Hyperallergic that, after last summer’s controversy over the Israel-related event, she felt increasingly reluctant to undertake the type of ambitious and outspoken programming she had championed for more than two years.
“There was a certain point, when Trump said the thing about ‘shithole countries,’ I was talking to a friend of mine and he asked, ‘so what are you guys doing?’” Raicovich recalled. “And I realized that I had completely self-censored, not even realizing in my own head that I had decided not to do anything. I think had that happened the year before I might have called some of the other cultural institutions in Queens and organized a cultural parade of some kind to at least show the beauty of multicultural cultural production. The fact that I didn’t even think to do that started to weigh really heavily on me.”
A highly anticipated retrospective of the socially engaged conceptual artist Mel Chin, which Raicovich is co-curating, will open at the Queens Museum on April 8.