The next director of the National Gallery of Canada is Alexandra Suda who is leaving her post as the curator of European art and the R. Fraser Elliott chair of prints and drawing with the Art Gallery of Ontario.
She replaces Marc Mayer who left the post Jan. 18 after 10 years on the job. Her first day on the job will be April 19.
Suda has never been the director of an art gallery or a museum, nor does she have much experience with the Quebec art scene. She has limited ability in French.
The application period for the job closed July 3. The salary range was set at $179,200 to $210,800.
Mayer greeted the appointment with a tweet Wednesday morning. “Good news. Alexandra “Sasha” Suda named new NGC Director and CEO. I can breath again. And even smile! She’ll be great.”
Suda previously worked at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York where she was in the Medieval Art department.
“It is a great privilege to lead the National Gallery of Canada,” said Suda on the NGC website. “A thrilling adventure awaits us—one that builds on a rich tradition, a world-class collection, and the dedication of the institution’s incredible staff. Human creativity is mankind’s most powerful and sustainable resource—without it we do not stand a chance negotiating the present, let alone creating a future that we cannot see.”
Suda was born in Orillia and raised in Toronto before completing a BA at Princeton University, an Masters at Williams College, and a PhD at The Institute of Fine Arts at New York University where her dissertation was on The Girona Martyrology and the Cult of Saints in Late-Medieval Bohemia.
Her recent exhibitions include a collaboration with the University of Toronto dedicated to Ethiopian Art and Early Rubens, a major international exhibition conceived and co-curated by Suda with the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. Her best known work is the 2016 exhibition, Small Wonders: Gothic Boxwood Miniatures, which was a partnership between the AGO, The Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Rijksmuseum.
With the appointment of a new director, other vacancies at the National Gallery may soon be filled. The post of chief curator has been vacant since April 1, 2018 when Paul Lang to return to run a gallery in Strasbourg France. And the job leading the Canadian Photography Institute has been empty since the abrupt departure of its first director Lise Lebart in March 2018.
Suda is the fourth woman to lead the gallery and the first in 20 years. The others were Jean Sutherland Boggs (1966–1976), Hsio-yen Shih (1976-81) and Shirley Thomson (1987–1997).
She also has another task to sort out. The gallery is still dealing with the fallout of the Chagall affair which raised the issue of deaccessioning in the public’s mind.
For those who may not remember the gallery tried to sell the Chagall painting The Eiffel Tower at auction to raise the funds to buy a painting by Jacques-Louis David. The move prompted an uproar and the gallery eventually took back the Chagall. It now hangs proudly in the European gallery.
“She thinks like a director. She thinks like an executive. And that was clear from the first meeting I had with her,” AGO director Stephan Jost told the CBC. “There’s this need for the National Gallery to both be, you know, Ottawa’s main museum and be truly a national museum of a vast country. You have to have a local audience but you also then have to really connect nationally whether it’s Newfoundland or, you know, Vancouver.”
“Through her exceptional talent, she will lead the National Gallery of Canada with the highest standards, making Canadians proud of their national art institution,” federal Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez said in a statement.
Ironically, one of her colleagues at the AGO was consulted about the sale of the Chagall.
Under Canadian law, owners of valuable artwork or historical artifacts have to get a government permit to take the items out of the country. In the process of approving such a transit, Canada Border Services Agency asks a curator at a museum with no involvement to decide, in their professional opinion, whether the object is of “outstanding significance and of national importance.”
In the case of The Eiffel Tower, news reports say the permit was cleared by Kenneth Brummel, an assistant curator of modern art at the AGO.
“For expert examiners, there is a strict protocol outlined by the Ministry of Heritage and all processes were followed. The protocol prohibits an expert examiner from publicly commenting,” AGO spokesperson Naomi Carniol told the Globe and Mail at the time.