Inquiry Clears Museum Director Who Quit in Conflict-of-Interest Storm

Posted June 13, 2018 2:51 p.m. EDT

AMSTERDAM — Beatrix Ruf, the former director of the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam who resigned last year under suspicion of conflicts of interest, was wrongly accused, according to a report released Tuesday.

Three of the seven board members at the Stedelijk, the Netherlands’ leading museum of contemporary and modern art and design, resigned in response to the report.

Ruf stepped down suddenly from leadership of the museum in October 2017 after a Dutch newspaper, NRC Handelsblad, ran a series of articles raising questions about her connection to a museum donor and about her $500,000 in outside income. The reporting suggested that Ruf could be using a side business, which included advising clients about art, to benefit her private interests rather than the Stedelijk, which is a public institution.

After she stepped down, the museum’s supervisory board asked the city of Amsterdam to conduct an independent investigation into her compliance with museum rules.

The 120-page report concluded that despite some “shortcomings,” Ruf acted “in good faith” and “in the interests of the museum” during her three-year tenure as director. Her additional income came “exclusively from organizations” that had been approved by the chairman of the board, it says.

Ruf could have been more transparent by writing to all of the board’s members about her outside activities, the report adds, but the museum “was not damaged” by her failure to do so.

“Mrs. Ruf has dedicated herself with heart and soul to the museum,” the report says. “The persons we have questioned about it have, without exception, stated that she spent considerably more hours on her work for the museum than the agreed 36 hours a week.”

“I am gratified the independent investigators have cleared me completely,” Ruf said in a statement Wednesday. “Above all, I was touched most by their conclusion that I always put my heart and soul into the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam. Because I did.”

The Stedelijk’s board of supervisors responded to the report with a brief statement announcing that three of its members, Jos van Rooijen, Madeleine de Cock Buning and Rita Kersting, would be stepping down.

“In the best interests of the museum, it is time to bring the recent turmoil to an end and start afresh,” the statement says. Kersting’s resignation is effective immediately, but the other two will stay on “to ensure a smooth transition.”

“We endorse the conclusions in broad terms and embrace all of the report’s recommendations,” the board’s statement continues. “The researchers also note that in a number of areas, supervision was inadequate. This is a finding we acknowledge, take responsibility for, and intend to learn from.”

Alexander Ribbink, who was chairman of the Stedelijk’s board when Ruf was hired, and who left the museum before she stepped down, said he was relieved by the investigation’s findings.

“I never doubted her integrity and I’m glad that that integrity is intact,” he said in a telephone interview Tuesday. “There’s a sense of justice being done, at least on paper. And I hope that the rest will follow.”

Ruf had always maintained that she did nothing wrong, and in an interview with The New York Times in November, she shared many details that were confirmed by the report.

Ruf’s departure came as a surprise to the contemporary art world, in which she is regarded as a leading figure. In February, local and international supporters took out a full-page ad in the Dutch newspaper Het Parool, that said simply “Bring Ruf back,” and was signed by artists such as Marina Abramovic and Laurie Anderson, the book designer Irma Boom and the architect Rem Koolhaas, as well as curators and other museum directors.

The Stedelijk’s spokesman, Udo Feitsma, said he could not comment on whether Ruf would be asked to return.