500 Capp Street Lays Off Head Curator, Creates Confusion About Future Exhibitions

David Ireland House exterior view, 2015. (Photo: Henrik Kam / Courtesy: 500 Capp Street Foundation)

Updated Thursday, 10:50am

In a decision that shocked the Bay Area art scene, 500 Capp Street Foundation’s Board of Directors suddenly laid off the nonprofit arts organization’s head curator, Bob Linder, on Wednesday, creating confusion as to the status of planned exhibitions for the remainder of the year.

The board characterized the decision in an official statement as an effort to “re-balance 500 Capp Street future exhibitions and public programs with an enhanced education program.”

Bob Linder, former head curator of 500 Capp Street.
Bob Linder, former head curator of 500 Capp Street. (Courtesy of 500 Capp Street Foundation website)

The 500 Capp Street Foundation, established by arts funder Carlie Wilmans, owns and operates the former residence of late San Francisco artist David Ireland, who treated the home as a constantly changing artwork, rearranging sculpture and two-dimensional works within the space. The foundation recently came under fire for its connection to Wilmans due to her attempts to evict tenants from 3463-3465 20th Street, a property that adjoins 500 Capp Street.

Linder, who has held the role of head curator since 2016, was unable to comment for this article due to a nondisclosure clause in his employment contract with 500 Capp Street. Curator Diego Villalobos will remain in his role; the two other staff positions, including director, also remain in place.

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According to newly appointed board chairman Jock Reynolds, who is about to retire as director of the Yale University Art Gallery, laying off Linder “wasn’t a pleasant thing to have to do, but he’s capable with his track record of getting another position.”

Speaking with KQED, Reynolds cites financial concerns as central to the decision of the board, which includes Wilmans and arts funder Ann Hatch. Several grants to which the foundation applied in order to support its much-lauded exhibition program—which brought work by national and international artists into conversation with Ireland’s home and artwork three times a year—did not come through, Reynolds says. Without outside support, the foundation is primarily funded by Wilmans.

The exterior of 500 Capp Street (corner) and its garage exhibition space.
The exterior of 500 Capp Street (corner) and its garage exhibition space. (Henrik Kam/Courtesy 500 Capp Street Foundation)

“We’ve been very happy with the quality of these exhibitions,” Reynolds says, “but the amount of money that was not coming in, in terms of anticipated revenue—there was a limit to what Carlie Wilmans was willing to do.” He adds that he hopes a shift towards a more educational model will increase funding opportunities in the future.

A secondary concern for the board was that Ireland’s own work, some of which remains in storage when not on view in the house, had not been seen often enough, despite the fact that the house itself is also an Ireland work. In their June 24 statement, the board promised “more well balanced representation and frequent rotation of the many Ireland artifacts and artworks that reside in the Foundation’s large collection of his work.” Following a brief closure in February 2020 for conservation and repairs to the home, 500 Capp Street will reopen with a staging of Ireland’s work.

Furor over the decision spread quickly on social media channels, especially within the Bay Area arts scene, where 500 Capp Street’s exhibition programming was seen as exciting and ambitious in the midst of an increasingly diminished landscape of arts spaces. Kate Rhoades and Maysoun Wazwaz, co-hosts of the arts and culture podcast Congratulations Pine Tree say the decision to fundamentally alter the exhibitions program is very upsetting.

“The exhibitions they bring allow David Ireland’s work to continue to be relevant,” says Wazwaz. “To remove that makes it feel like it’s going to become more stale, regardless of how important David Ireland’s work is to contemporary art in general.” For those who visit from out of town and only view 500 Capp Street once, an exhibition of Ireland’s work may suffice, they say, but the exhibition program was a gift to repeat visitors and local audiences.

As far as eliminating the role of head curator, Reynolds says he views this as an opportunity to create “some type of curatorial training program.” He is mindful of the diminishing number of curatorial positions in the Bay Area, he says, mentioning former jobs at the San Francisco Art Institute and the Contemporary Jewish Museum as examples.

If there’s irony in a decision to create a training program for curators while simultaneously eliminating a job that might have been available to them once trained, Reynolds does not mention it. As for Linder, he has a long history with both the house and Ireland, whom he met as an SFAI undergrad in 1998. As head curator at 500 Capp Street, Linder brought his personal knowledge of Ireland and his practice into exhibition planning, which over the past three years included shows with work by Mike Kelley, Felix Gonzales-Torres and Cady Nolad. (Until its last exhibitions closed on April 27, Linder also co-directed the Mission District gallery CAPITAL.)

Installation view of 'Pushing and pulling, pulling and pushing' at 500 Capp Street Foundation, featuring images from Mike Kelley's 'Extracurricular Activity Projective Reconstruction' series, 2004-2005.
Installation view of 'Pushing and pulling, pulling and pushing' at 500 Capp Street Foundation, featuring images from Mike Kelley's 'Extracurricular Activity Projective Reconstruction' series, 2004-2005. (Courtesy of the MIke Kelley Foundation for the Arts)

500 Capp Street typically hosts one show in the main house, and a smaller show in the garage, which was converted into an exhibition space when the house was refurbished by Jensen Architects and ARG Conservation Services. Reynolds promises exhibitions for the remainder of 2019 will take place as planned.

But New York artist Matt Connors, scheduled to mount the next house exhibition in October, states via email to KQED that he will not be showing with 500 Capp Street. “I officially pulled out of any continuing association with them and have expressed my strong disapproval of their treatment of Mr. Linder as well as the new direction,” Connors says.

Precise information about the scheduling of the future “re-balanced” exhibitions program, how contemporary artists will now be involved in those shows, and what potential “curatorial training” might look like are all up in the air. But, Reynolds promises, “no one’s going to be disappointed about what lies ahead.”

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As for the current shows up at 500 Capp Street, Liz Magor’s TIMESHARE will be on view through July 6, Nina Canell’s Drag-Out, remain on view through Aug. 17.

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