S.F. Museums Tap Colin Bailey, Frick No. 2, as New Chief

The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, operator of the de Young and Legion of Honor museums, named Colin Bailey as director yesterday after a 15-month search.

Bailey, 57, is deputy director of the Frick Collection, the small, wealthy Manhattan museum that he joined as chief curator in 2000. A highly regarded specialist in 18th- and 19th-century French art, Bailey holds a doctorate from Oxford University and previously served as deputy director of the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa.

The San Francisco museums are among the largest on the West Coast, together attracting about 1.6 million visitors a year and ranking them fourth in attendance among U.S. museums.

The modernist de Young, in Golden Gate Park, houses temporary exhibitions and art of Asia and the Americas. The neoclassical Legion, in Lincoln Park, displays European art and smaller traveling shows.

In a statement yesterday, Bailey praised the museums’ “distinct personalities,” saying that they offer “an opportunity to do the larger blockbuster projects and also the more focused and scholarly undertakings.”

The museums are overseen by the city and a private board of trustees. The appointment follows the December 2011 death of the previous director, John Buchanan, and a period of upheaval that followed.

Staff Upheaval

Under President Diane Wilsey, an art collector and philanthropist who led a $190 million campaign to finance a new building for the de Young that opened in 2005, the board oversaw a staff reorganization. The moves included hiring or promoting five senior managers: a deputy director, a chief curator and new heads of fundraising, marketing and public relations.

The San Francisco Chronicle reported that at least four staffers, including a longtime curator of European art, two exhibition designers and a photographer, were forced out.

In addition to restoring staff confidence, Bailey will need to develop an exhibition lineup that matches the successes of his predecessor. A Southerner with close ties to French museums, Buchanan attracted a steady stream of well-attended traveling shows during his six-year tenure.

The museums’ current exhibition schedule has been depleted. The latest show the de Young has formally announced, “Richard Diebenkorn: The Berkeley Years, 1953-1966,” opens June 22 and runs through Sept. 29. The Legion will present “Impressionists on the Water” from June 1 through Oct. 13, to coincide with the America’s Cup sailing championship, to be held this year in San Francisco Bay.

Former Finalist

Deputy director of the Frick since 2011, Bailey has organized more than two dozen exhibitions and published catalogs and scholarly articles throughout his career. He previously worked at the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles, the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth, Texas.

Bailey was one of three finalists for the director’s job at the Frick, according to a New York Times report. The job went to Ian Wardropper, a curator at the Metropolitan Museum, in 2011.

A major challenge for Bailey will be shifting from a small, wealthy museum to a larger, less richly endowed one.

The Frick’s endowment was valued at $242.5 million for the fiscal year ended June 30, 2012, while its operating budget for that year totaled about $23 million. Its professional staff of curators, education staff, conservators and others totals less than 25, according to the Frick website.

The San Francisco museums, by contrast, have about 550 employees and an operating budget of $54 million -- less than a quarter funded by the city -- and an endowment of $113 million as of June 30.

Muse highlights include Jason Harper on cars and Greg Evans on television.