Barnes Foundation Recruits Director From Miami

Barnes Foundation Recruits Director From Miami

The New York Times
January 7, 2015
By Randy Kennedy

The Barnes Foundation—now in its third year in its gleaming new home in downtown Philadelphia after a contentious relocation—announced on Wednesday that it had chosen Thomas Collins, a longtime museum leader and curator, to become its new executive director and president after a search of almost a year.

Mr. Collins, known as Thom, has served for nearly five years as director of the Pérez Art Museum Miami, previously known as the Miami Art Museum and renamed in 2012 to recognize a multimillion-dollar gift of art and cash from the developer Jorge M. Pérez. Under Mr. Collins’s leadership, the museum constructed a new building designed by the firm Herzog & de Meuron that opened in December 2013 and attracted 300,000 visitors in its first year, far exceeding expectations.

At the same time, the Pérez has struggled in a difficult philanthropic environment in Miami to cover its operating expenses and build its endowment. But Mr. Collins, a native Philadelphian, said those “growing pains” were not a factor in his decision to accept the Barnes’s offer. “It’s a good, comfortable, stable time to make this transition, and if it weren’t, I wouldn’t be leaving,” he said.

Mr. Collins, 46, who also served for five years as director of the Neuberger Museum of Art in Purchase, N.Y., said he was drawn to the Barnes not only because it was one of the places where he first learned about art while growing up in the Philadelphia suburbs, but also because of the philosophy of its founder, Albert C. Barnes, a pharmaceutical tycoon who cast it more as a teaching institution than as a traditional museum.

“I’ve always thought of myself as an educator,” said Mr. Collins, who added that he felt that the Barnes had “really never been able to bridge to that great academic community in and around Philadelphia” — schools like the University of Pennsylvania, Temple University, Drexel University and Swarthmore College, his undergraduate alma mater.

Asked his opinion about the Barnes’s relocation from the suburb of Merion—permitted in a 2004 court decision that circumvented the charter and bylaws of Barnes, who had stipulated that his collection could not be lent, sold or moved from its original home—Mr. Collins said: “To me it seems like an unqualified success. I have no reservations now about it at all, and I wouldn’t be going there if I did.”

Mr. Collins, who takes over in mid-March, will succeed Derek Gillman, who stepped down at the end of 2013 after leading the museum for seven years and was recently named the chairman of the Impressionist and Modern art department at Christie’s auction house. Mr. Collins said he planned to continue the foundation’s initiative of showing contemporary artists whose work has affinities with the Barnes’s Impressionist and Modernist collection and to find other ways to try to expand its outreach programs and audience. (The year after opening its new building, annual attendance at the Barnes grew from 60,000 per year to more than 300,000; last year, 285,000 people visited.)

Joseph Neubauer, the chairman of the foundation’s board, said the Barnes, though founded in 1922, considered itself a young institution in its new home. “And now we’re into the adolescent or maybe young adult stage,” he said, adding that the search committee was attracted to the zeal with which Mr. Collins courted the highly varied audiences for art in Miami.

“It’s a kind of energy that we want to continue to have at the Barnes,” Mr. Neubauer said.