Patrick Charpenel will be the new executive director of El Museo del Barrio in New York.
Charpenel is a Mexico City–based curator who has worked extensively in Mexico as well as internationally. He organized a Gabriel Orozco retrospective at the Museo del Palacio de Bellas Artes in Mexico City in 2006 and an exhibition of work by Franz West at the Museo Tamayo Arte Contemporáneo in 2009. He also oversaw the Art Public section for the 2009 and 2010 editions of Art Basel Miami Beach.
Charpenel served as the executive director of Museo Jumex, the private museum in Mexico City of ARTnews Top 200 collector Eugenio López Alonso. (Charpenel resigned from his post in 2015 amid the controversy over the cancellation of a Hermann Nitsch show.) Charpenel is also a writer and a collector of “a heterogeneous group of works” that focuses on such interests as “the structure of the global economy and the extension of artistic experience into the social sphere.”
“Patrick Charpenel is part of a brilliant new generation of curators with global vision,” Susana Torruella Leval, the museum’s director emerita, said in a statement. “At the same time, his love and respect for regional history and concern for social justice are particularly relevant as he prepares to lead El Museo del Barrio into the 21st century.”
El Museo was founded in 1969 in the heart of Spanish Harlem—often called El Barrio—in Manhattan as a venue to support Puerto Rican art and artists. It would eventually expand its mission to present and support work by artists from throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, as well as contemporary Latinx artists.
“The artworks showcased in the world’s best museums make us see the world differently,” Charpenel told ARTnews in an email. “They change our perceptions of reality and allow us to critically observe things that had previously gone unnoticed. El Museo del Barrio lives up to its name, putting the ‘Barrio’ in one of the world’s most important cities in the planet. It is the institution that truly understands the diversity, uniqueness, and richness of Latino and Latin American art.”
El Museo has had a bit of a rough going since around 2010 when its then director Julián Zugazagoitia, who had overseen an expansion and renovation of the museum’s building in the city’s Spanish Harlem neighborhood, left for the Nelson-Atkins Museum. In September 2011, the museum named Margarita Aguilar, who had been a curator at El Museo before leaving for Christie’s, director.
By 2012, the museum’s chief curator, Debroah Cullen, who had been at the museum since 1997, resigned and left for Columbia University’s Wallach Art Gallery. The board then brought in Chus Martínez, who had been the head of the artistic direction department of Documenta 13, in 2012. Martínez left after a year without organizing a show. After 18 months, Aguilar had resigned and subsequently, in February 2013, filed a claim of gender discrimination against the museum. The New York State Division of Human Rights eventually rejected the claim.
Things seemed to be turning around by March 2014 when Jorge Daniel Veneciano, who had been director of the Sheldon Museum of Art at the University of Nebraska, was appointed director. He left after two years, and was eventually announced as director of the Museum of Arts and Design in New York, though he left that post after four months. Through much of the controversy, the curatorial stalwart of the museum has been Rocío Aranda-Alvarado, who co-curated the much-acclaimed Antonio Lopez exhibition in 2016.
As Charpenel takes over, he will be tasked with “setting financial priorities,” including its fundraising efforts for the museum, as well as increasing its education programs and “strengthening exhibitions speaking to themes of Latino and Latin American art in the 21st century,” according to a press release.
“I am personally pleased that Patrick is dedicated both to the original mission of El Museo, to contribute to the vibrant cultural life of New York’s ‘Barrio,’ and to bringing the best of Latino and Latin American art to our city,” El Museo’s board chair, Maria Eugenia Maury, said in a statement. “We expect his leadership to herald a new era for El Museo del Barrio and to serve as an inspiration for El Barrio, New York City, and the global community.”