After less than two years at the helm, Palm Springs Art Museum director Louis Grachos has revealed plans to depart his post and head to SITE Santa Fe, a New Mexico art space with a closely watched biennial. With his new position, Grachos is returning to an institution he once called home—he directed SITE Santa Fe from 1996 to 2003. He starts again there this summer.
“SITE Santa Fe has for 25 years been an important part of this vibrant landscape, placing artists at the core of all of its work and embracing the dynamism of both local and global voices,” Grachos said in a statement. “To return to SITE Santa Fe now is such an incredible opportunity and point of excitement for me.”
Grachos’s short tenure at the Palm Springs Art Museum has seen two notable controversies over the past year, including one involving the sale of a vast Helen Frankenthaler painting from the Californian institution’s collection. The museum took advantage of relaxed industry guidelines for selling art from institutional holdings, an occasionally controversial practice known as deaccessioning, and Grachos said that auctioning the painting was a measure intended to bring in funds for the direct care of the collection. It was bought for $3.9 million at Sotheby’s this past October.
A few months before that, in June, Grachos faced pushback from industry professionals, who decried the Palm Springs Art Museum’s message following the police killing of George Floyd: an Instagram post using an image of an artwork by Alison Saar that did not refer directly to the Black Lives Matter movement or Floyd. More than 200 artists, curators, and museum workers signed an open letter in which they claimed that the museum was preaching “neutrality.” After the letter, the institution appended a message to the home page of its website reading, in part, “Palm Springs Art Museum condemns racism in any form.”
Prior to SITE Santa Fe, Grachos had held directorship positions at the Contemporary Austin in Texas and the Albright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo, New York.
SITE Santa Fe has been without a director since January, when its most recent leader, Irene Hofmann, departed after 10 years at the helm. During her time there, she significantly built up the museum’s reputation. She renamed the museum’s biennial SITElines and focused it on contemporary art from the Americas, launching it to national fame in the process.