Okay, So Who’s Gonna Run Rhizome?

by Will Brand on May 7, 2012 · 13 comments Opportunities

C’mon, who’s it gonna be? Rhizome has posted a job listing to replace Lauren Cornell as Executive Director, but nobody seems to have any idea who could replace her. The applicant would need to be familiar with net art and new media, have curatorial and/or grant-writing experience, and have the ability to bring in cash money from donors and collectors. Who fits that profile? We have no idea.

We do know who it’s probably not, though, so let’s start there.

It’s probably not anybody on staff at Rhizome; nobody has the right skill set. The Executive Director of a nonprofit—particularly this one—is essentially a professional schmoozer, grant-writer, and administrator, a kind of combined figurehead and one-person development department. Precisely because Cornell was so good at those tasks, Rhizome’s other staff are all either technical archival staff (Ben Fino-Radin, Nick Hasty) or writers (Joanne McNeil et al). The one administrative employee they have was an intern eighteen months ago. Mark Tribe, Rhizome’s founder, seems unlikely to return.

Similarly, it’s probably not anybody at Eyebeam; if any of them were a possibility, they’d already have gotten the similarly vacant directorship at that nonprofit. Amanda McDonald Crowley, the former director of Eyebeam, might be willing to put her institutional shackles back on to try the equivalent job crosstown, but I doubt it.

Most established New York-based curator-types have little or no fundraising experience—that’s a dealbreaker—plus some other obvious reason not to take the position. Since there are only a handful of institutions out there, most net art writers and academics anyone can name have no executive experience to speak of. Barbara London or Chrissie Iles probably wouldn’t take the demotion, though the opportunity to run their own organization might be tempting. Rachel Greene isn’t a fundraiser/development-type, and hasn’t been close to net art for a few years; Christiane Paul is in a similar position, though she’s better-connected to net artists. Personally, I have to wonder what CRUMB founder Sarah Cook is doing; she’s smart, curate-y, and executive, even if she is across an ocean.

Lindsay Howard of 319 Scholes will probably throw her hat in the ring, but she has a short track record, little public fundraising experience, and occasionally rocky relations with some of the current staff at Rhizome. Karen Archey, a curator, writer, and Rhizome’s Editor-at-Large, almost certainly wants the job; without executive or development experience, though, she’s perhaps a gamble for an organization that—by its archival nature—is unlikely to risk itself on a relatively untested candidate. (Update: Karen Archey informs me via Facebook that she is not interested in the job.) Julia Kaganskiy is a relentlessly curious, capable manager, but she doesn’t have much institutional experience. Also, we wonder whether any writer or editor-type without existing ties to the organization—i.e., experience writing for them—would even be considered.

Our own Editorial Director Paddy Johnson could pull it off, but she’s perhaps too contentious for an institution like Rhizome and seems to universally elicit a kind of “Whoa” reaction. Marcin Ramocki would be a surprising, but qualified choice; he’s a talented, connected writer, curator, and artist, with experience running a gallery of his own and fundraising for it.

Another possibility is that Rhizome selects an international figure relatively unknown in New York, like somebody who’s really famous in the Netherlands, or somewhere like that; the issue there is that whoever gets the job would need to build a network of fundraising contacts very quickly. If I were Rhizome’s board, I wouldn’t take the gamble.

One suggestion I think is fantastic: Caitlin Jones. She’d be an absolute shoo-in, thanks to her skills as a writer and curator and experience in digital preservation. She’s well-connected in New York, has gallery-world credentials from her time at Bryce Wolkowitz (with the sort of practicality that can come with that), and once was a staff writer for Rhizome. Formerly a New Yorker, she’s spent the past two and a half years as the Executive Director of Western Front, a Canadian nonprofit based in Vancouver. Is she willing to come back so soon? I don’t know.

That’s all the wildly speculative comments I’ve got. Consider this an open thread to add your own.


Tim Whidden May 7, 2012 at 5:22 pm

I don’t think you’d get Caitlin Jones back to NYC

Ryder Ripps May 7, 2012 at 7:15 pm

ok star jones

John Michael Boling May 8, 2012 at 11:09 pm


Jennifer Chan May 7, 2012 at 8:55 pm

I think Sarah Cook or Steve Dietz (ex-Walker Art Center?)  would be cool.

re: someone fame fame in the Netherlands

or Josephine Bosma http://www.josephinebosma.com/ who’s so knowledgeable about net art history or Geert Lovink ( Institute of Network Cultures) to spice it up. then maybe The Download would actually be open to everyone…

Will Brand May 7, 2012 at 9:00 pm

Oh Steve Dietz would be great! I mean, he checks a lot of boxes, surely.

Jennifer Chan May 7, 2012 at 8:56 pm

I think it’s cool younger people got a mentioning.

Sarahjmolly May 8, 2012 at 6:48 am

Micheal Connor? Institutional experience and relevant contacts?

Guest May 8, 2012 at 10:34 am

Agreed: Michael Connor.  He teaches “Art of the Archive” at ITP, has curated collections for corporations, has relationships with organizations and museums relevant to Rhizome’s work, and is charismatic as hell.

Daniel Jolliffe May 8, 2012 at 5:54 pm

Kudos on such an on-the-ball article!

tom moody May 9, 2012 at 8:37 am

Another possibility is the New Museum rethinks its relationship with a vaguely-defined “net art” platform and either spins it off as a tech booster site or consolidates the Artbase as a relatively low-cost collection of new media art.
Because one person has been running Rhizome for seven years it’s more of a series of habits than an institution at this point. What is Rhizome? It’s an art collection, but it’s never been clear whether it was curated or something like an unvetted artist slide registry. It’s a magazine-like blog, which wavers between attempts at criticism and straight-up press releases, and will never have any real teeth as the “house publication” of a museum. And it’s a place that organizes lectures, projects such as “7 artists/7 technologists,” and the occasional show. Most of this has been decided in a fairly autocratic manner: instead of a people-powered, crowd-sourced “rhizomatic” model, Rhizome for the last several years has been closer to, say, China under Mao.
Now that the cult of personality is ending, and given the vagueness of the charter at this point, why keep the thing?
This post asks the wrong question.

Will Brand May 9, 2012 at 2:36 pm

It’s possible that the New Museum rethinks its relationship. There’s no indication, for one thing, that the director of Rhizome should necessarily also hold a curator’s title at the New Museum. I doubt they split up entirely, though—the partnership is probably a boon for grant-getting on both sides. Also, I don’t think the New Museum has any explicit power to decide the fate of Rhizome; Rhizome has its own board, employees, and supporters, it just borrows some office space. (All of this, obviously, is as I understand it, and Rhizomers or New Museumites are very welcome to clarify.) 

You’re right that the new director will need to figure out what, exactly, Rhizome is. That’s part of the reason I can throw out such a variety of names and not sound like a complete idiot; it could be an editor-type interested in building out the publication and returning to conversation as the center, or it could be an archivist-type dedicated to building around Artbase, or it could be someone with money and connections who can bring the art world proper to net art. It could be a lot of things. I think it’s interesting times.

I’ve been confused about what exactly the Artbase is meant to be, too. On the one hand, I see artists like Nikola Tosic, who complained in the comments to Brian Droitcour’s borderline racist pseudo-review of work Tosic did not consider part of his art practice thusly: 

““Nikola Tosic, sticker for Internet Pavilion” – Project is called Educational Sticker and this is again a project of my company, not my art project, but since, by my error, it was in Rhizome.org Artbase this is my problem. I have forgotten to take it out since I put it there many years ago.”

Now, that indicates to me that the Artbase is the sort of thing you forget you put you worked on. On the other hand, I semi-routinely see artists, particularly artists only beginning to see their first success, express pleasure that they’re included in the Artbase; that seems to better fit Rhizome’s own statement, on the submission page, that “The Rhizome curatorial team will be choosing works [from those submitted] for the Artbase. “ How exclusive is this supposed to be? Surely, from the Artbase’s standpoint, it would make sense to accept works in proportion to how easy it is to conserve them; they might accept nearly every GIF, but only a very few Google Maps API-based mobile app artworks. They’d need to spell that out a little more clearly, though.

nathaniel stern May 9, 2012 at 10:43 am

I think Furtherfield should take over Rhizome.

Jennifer Chan May 15, 2012 at 12:25 am

lol, yes i think they should merge and become the Anglophonic new media conglomerate gatekeeper (yeahright)

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