Kate Fowle assumed her role just before the COVID-19 pandemic shuttered the museum (via Flickr)

After barely three years on the job, Kate Fowle, the director of MoMA PS1, announced her resignation on June 10. She did not cite a reason for her departure.

Fowle joined MoMA PS1, the Museum of Modern Art’s (MoMA) contemporary outpost in Long Island City, Queens, in 2019. She had previously served as the first chief curator of Moscow’s Garage Museum of Contemporary Art.

Fowle will leave the museum on July 15 but will continue to curate an exhibition of work by Daniel Lind-Ramos set to open next spring. In Fowle’s absence, three current MoMA PS1 staff members will form an interim leadership team: Deputy Director Jose Ortiz, Director of External Affairs Molly Kurzius, and Director of Curatorial Affairs Ruba Katrib.

Fowle’s brief tenure witnessed a tumultuous time at the museum, including MoMA PS1’s closure due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the museum’s subsequent loss of revenue and staff, which was slashed from 64 to 17 and now stands at 55. Even before the museum was forced to close its doors, it was already operating with a budget of only $7 to 8 million, a stark contrast to the titanic MoMA’s 2021 budget of $135 million.

Under Fowle’s leadership, MoMA PS1 mounted Marking Time, a 2020 show that reflected on mass incarceration, and developed two ongoing programs that seek to engage the local community. In Homeroom, the museum collaborates with community members and organizations to portray the neighborhood’s history; another initiative consists of a series of installations, murals, and activations that “reimagin[e] the uses of and access to PS1’s outdoor courtyard.”

But Fowle’s time at the institution has not been without controversy: Protests over MoMA board members’ financial ties to military abuses and the prison industrial complex erupted last spring at the opening of the contentious Theater of Operations: The Gulf Wars 1991–2011 exhibition. Hyperallergic reported extensively on the experience of Iraqi artists in the show after they discovered that MoMA board member Leon Black and his son Joshua Black, who sits on the board of MoMA PS1, profited from Blackwater, the military contractor that fueled death and destruction during the Iraq War. According to the artists, the museum prohibited them from altering their work in protest and was not forthcoming about the murky financial backgrounds of its board members.

Fowle’s departure appears abrupt: In early April, the New York Times published an article in which she outlined her long-term goals for the museum, and unlike the case of other high-profile museum directors who recently stepped down, there has been no public outcry over her leadership. In a New York Times story announcing Fowle’s resignation, an anonymous source is quoted as saying that Fowle “expressed difficulty managing her job” in a recent meeting with MoMA PS1 Board Chair Sarah Arison and Director Glenn Lowry.

Despite any perceived struggles, Fowle seems to have earned considerable respect in New York’s art circles. In a June 12 Instagram post, former NYC Culture Commissioner Gonzalo Casals, who now works at the Mellon Foundation, lamented her departure.

“I am going to spare you all from my rant about the way the nonprofit cultural system has been hiring women and BIPOC folks to then chew them up and spit them out at the whims of still predominant white boards,” Casals wrote. “Today I want to make sure the fantastic work that @kate.fowle brought to @momaps1 is lifted and visible. With @kate.fowle, we got to see great exhibitions that presented contemporary art that challenged us to face the most profound inequalities of our society and celebrating artists at all stages of their careers.”

Fowle announced her resignation in an all-staff email, writing: “I want you to know that I have deep respect and admiration for you all, and that I am incredibly proud of all the work we have achieved together. You are the dream team and I am forever in awe of the kindness, dedication, and care that you show to each other, to me, and to all the artists and their communities and partners that we work with.”

In a statement emailed to Hyperallergic, Arison described Fowle as “a talented curator and director who has led MoMA PS1 through the intense challenges of the last three years to become a more resilient and financially stable institution.”

Elaine Velie is a writer from New Hampshire living in Brooklyn. She studied Art History and Russian at Middlebury College and is interested in art's role in history, culture, and politics.