Asma Naeem Becomes the First Person of Color to Lead the Baltimore Museum

After its last leader departed to head the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Baltimore Museum of Art has named a new director: Asma Naeem, who had been the institution’s interim co-director alongside Christine Dietze.

Naeem will be the first person of color to lead the Baltimore Museum, an institution whose staff has in recent years been vocal about a need to diversify its collection, sometimes using methods that have been controversial with the general public.

The Baltimore Museum has been white-led for the entirety of its 109-year-long history. That makes it not unlike most other encyclopedic institutions across the U.S., although there have been signs of change at some museums in recent years as more people of color are named to high-ranking posts.

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“As we move forward, there is an incredible opportunity to bring a greater depth of local and global voices into the dialogues about the history and evolution of art, about museums as community spaces, and about the relationship between internal culture to external experience—and in doing so create meaningful change in the field,” Naeem said in a statement. “I am looking forward to working with the exceptional team here and with our many current and future collaborators.”

Naeem was hired as museum’s chief curator in 2018, and she has organized shows there such as last year’s Salman Toor survey, which was billed as the first major one ever devoted to the artist. She is currently curating “The Culture: Hip Hop and Contemporary Art in the 21st Century,” which will open in April.

Before the Baltimore Museum, Naeem had been at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C., and had prior to that been a practicing lawyer, working in the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office and the Office of Bar Counsel in Washington, D.C.

She replaces Christopher Bedford, who last year departed for SFMOMA. He periodically riled anger among the general public by selling works by white men from the collection to enable acquisitions of art by women artists and artists of color. Naeem once defended the strategy in an op-ed, co-written with Katy Siegel, a former Baltimore Museum curator who has also since left for SFMOMA.

James D. Thornton, chair of the museum’s board, said in a statement, “The BMA is committed to bringing diversity and equity into every aspect of its work, from the exhibitions and programs we develop to the works we acquire to our internal working culture. Since she joined the museum in 2018, Dr. Naeem has been integral to shaping this vision and to the strides we have made to realize it.”

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