An explosive CBC report published earlier this week alleges that Gregory Burke, CEO of Remai Modern, one of Canada’s largest and most important museums, is currently under investigation by the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission for “alleged workplace harassment dating back to his time at Mendel Art Gallery.”
The claims were made by an employee whose name the CBC has decided to omit. The commission document obtained by CBC also leaves out details of the claim, but a lawyer for the woman acknowledged the case is currently before the courts. In addition to Burke, the document also names the corporate entities for both Mendel Art Gallery and Remai Modern as respondents.
The Burke has responded to multiple requests for comment.
The Mendel Art Gallery is the previous incarnation of the Remai Modern, but changed its name in 2014 after receiving a significant donation from the Frank and Ellen Remai Foundation.
Based on a commission document obtained by CBC News, the report names Mendel Art Gallery, Remai Modern, and Burke as respondents. “My aim investigating this complaint is to determine the facts and gather relevant perspectives on the situation,” commission investigator Lewanna Dubray wrote in the document.
CBC News said in the report that they “learned of the harassment allegation weeks before it obtained an email showing that both a city ombudsperson and a hired coaching firm have written reports about the museum workplace.”
In a follow-up report published on March 6 by Canadian Art, writer Leah Sandals notes that the harassment scandal is just the “latest in a series of concerning reports about the Remai.” Namely, funding concerns amidst a shake-up of the board, as well as the recent departure of chief curator Sandra Guimarães, who left the Remai in January 2019 after three and a half years on the job.
In an email sent to Hyperallergic, Stephanie McKay, Communications Manager at Remai Modern, said: “we do not comment on human resources matters.”
Last year, Burke announced he was leaving Remai Modern to accept a new job at the Auckland Art Gallery in his native New Zealand, a post he is due to take up this April (his last day at the Remai is scheduled for March 15). Despite the Auckland Art Gallery’s awareness of the current case against Burke in Saskatchewan, the gallery has doubled down on their commitment to him.
Chris Brooks, Auckland Art Gallery’s acting director, said in a statement sent to CBC News after the allegations surfaced, saying, “the team [here] is aware of a reported investigation by the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission. However, out of consideration for privacy and any due process that may follow, [we] will not — as in all cases of this type — be making any further statement.”
The case brings to light another allegation of abuse of power in many of the world’s most elite art circles, following a number of recent incidents. Last year, for example, Jens Hoffman was forced to step down as director of the FRONT Triennial and as director of the Jewish Museum after allegations of sexual misconduct surfaced against him. Knight Landesman, the former editor-in-chief of Artforum, was forced to step down after allegations of sexual assault surfaced against him, though he remains co-owner of Artforum.
The Auckland Art Gallery has not yet responded to Hyperallergic’s request for comment.
Update, 3/13/19, 3:36 pm: On March 12, Hyperallergic received a statement from an official representative of Remai Modern saying that the museum “is committed to fostering a positive and successful workplace environment and has undertaken a number of recent and upcoming initiatives to build a high-performing culture that supports, empowers, grows and rewards our people. As this is an ongoing investigation and human resources matter, Remai Modern is unable to comment further at this time.” The museum went on to list several initiatives, including their strategic plan for 2019-2021, identifying “People” as one of Remai Modern’s five key pillars. “Remai Modern is committed to seeing this ongoing process through,” they said in a follow-up email sent to Hyperallergic. They are appointing an interim director of human resources and conducting a “third-party organizational assessment report, which enlisted help from all staff through anonymous surveys and small, confidential focus groups.” They will also be carrying out “Respectful Workplace training.”