Gregory Burke has withdrawn from the post of director of Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki.
Burke, who until Friday, March 15, worked as CEO at the Remai Modern in Saskatoon, was scheduled to become director of the Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki in April 2019. But on Monday, March 18, CBC News and TV New Zealand both reported that Burke had withdrawn from the Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki directorship.
“As I await the opportunity to address an unproven allegation against me and clear any speculation of wrongdoing, I am withdrawing my application for Director of Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki from consideration,” Burke said in a statement to TV New Zealand.
Burke’s withdrawal from the Auckland post follows a March 5 CBC News report by Guy Quenneville indicating that there is a Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission investigation ongoing against Burke.
“I am concerned that the attention caused by this allegation has created a distraction for the [Auckland Art] gallery’s board and staff and out of respect for them and the institution, I believe this is the right thing to do,” Burke said to TV New Zealand.
According to CBC News, the ongoing Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission complaint was submitted by an unnamed woman who worked with Burke at Mendel Art Gallery—the predecessor of Remai Modern. Burke has said in recent statements that the complaint dates back to 2013 and was filed in 2016.
The Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission website says that most complaints it deals with are investigated within six months, “but this timeline may be extended depending on the availability of witnesses or the complexity of the complaint.” A Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission spokesperson tells Canadian Art that some complaints are resolved within 24 hours, while others, like the current investigation involving Burke, can take two years or more. The Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission no longer releases decisions publicly. But it does refer cases to the courts when they cannot be resolved through the usual complaints and mediation process.
The news of the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission complaint followed other concerning news about the Remai Modern workplace environment. As Guy Quenneville of CBC News has reported, two workplace studies were made at Remai Modern of late, and a board chair addressed “workplace issues” in an email to staff. CBC News also reported high turnover in many staff positions at the Remai Modern, which has only been open since October 2017. In January 2019, chief curator Sandra Guimarães left—a fact only reported by Saskatoon StarPhoenix recently.
In an in-depth analysis of staff and board shakeups at the Remai, scholar Jen Budney recently wrote in Canadian Art that “One has to wonder if the Remai Modern board had been concerned with the rate of turnover for managerial, creative and administrative staff under Burke’s leadership. Some of the many positions that turned over, a few more than once, include Director of Development, Development Manager, Learning & Engagement Manager, Communications Manager, Design Coordinator, Editor & Publications Coordinator, Accounting Manager, and of course, Chief Curator. Such turnover is costly—some individuals relocated for their Remai jobs from places like Toronto, Montreal, and even Abu Dhabi, but stayed in Saskatoon for less than a year. The board may have wondered if the frequent staff turnover indicated an underlying problem with employee morale, and they may have wondered about the cause. Then again, they may not have.”
There had also been word in the past of workplace issues at a previous gallery Burke had led: the Power Plant in Toronto.
“While Burke pleased the [Power Plant] board with his fiscal discipline and established good relationships with artists, he developed a reputation as a micromanager without much faith in the abilities of his underlings,” Daniel Baird reported in a 2011 feature for Toronto Life magazine. Baird’s article continues: “Burke disagrees with this assessment. ‘I am thrilled with and supportive of the current staff,’ he says. Nevertheless, he burned through four development officers in five years, and last year the respected senior curator Helena Reckitt stepped down, reportedly because she found working with him impossible. More than one staff member told me that Burke is notorious for his temper. ‘He screams and yells at people, shaking his finger,’ one of them confided.”
According to CBC News, Regional Facilities Auckland, which oversees Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, said that it “accepts Gregory’s decision and wishes him the best for the future. Our focus, as always, is on the exciting opportunities ahead for the Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, as we recommence our search for a new gallery director.”
Stuff.co.nz reported that the Regional Facilities Auckland also stated that “For reasons of privacy, we will not be making any further comment.”
According to Saskatoon Star Phoenix reporter Phil Tank, Gregory Burke’s “name and welcome message were stripped from the [Remai Modern] website Friday afternoon,” even before his official last day had ended.