The worlds of art and architecture are still recovering from a bombshell report earlier this month by the Financial Times detailing sexual harassment and misconduct charges on the part of the celebrated Ghanaian-British architect, Sir David Adjaye.
The art world has always had its coterie of favorite architects, like Annabelle Selldorf, Frank Ghery and Zaha Hadid. It’s a business that often requires construction and renovations, and much the way certain artists become must-haves, the list of potential designers for any art world building project tends to be short. Adjaye is known for designs that merge the futuristic with the worldly and was, in short, perfect for this moment in the art world.
Last week the Shelburne Museum in Vermont released a statement that “disengages” from Adjaye, who was tapped in May to build its Perry Center for Native American Art. They joined the Studio Museum in Harlem, the deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum in Lincoln, Massachusetts, Sharjah’s Africa Institute, San Antonio’s Ruby City, Florida’s Winter Park Library and the United Kingdom’s Holocaust Memorial Foundation, among others, which have all sought to distance themselves from Adjaye regarding projects planned or completed.
“We are aware of the allegations and have spoken with Adjaye Associates,” said a spokesperson for the U.K.’s Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities. “They have confirmed that Sir David will not be involved in the UK Holocaust Memorial Foundation project until the issues raised have been addressed.”
“The Board of Trustees and David Adjaye have agreed that David will step away from the Museum’s building project,” the museum said in the statement. “The Museum initiated this project to advance its mission of advocating for and supporting artists of African descent. The design vision is 100% complete. With the Adjaye Associates New York-based Executive Team and Cooper Robertson, our executive architect, we are moving forward and approaching substantial completion of construction.”
In the #MeToo era, the art world has had its fair share of scandals, with curators and even museum directors losing jobs due to inappropriate personal conduct. The difficulty now facing art’s influencers is the fact that years-long plans can’t be torn up on a dime, and you can’t ask a building to resign. David Adjaye’s excellent design for the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture will forever hold an uncomfortable position next to the Washington Monument.
Nobody seems to agree what is appropriate to do in these circumstances, or what the now-cliche term “cancellation” really even means. But what’s clear is that it’s far more difficult to mete out any kind of punishment to architects. The legacy of the Pritzker-prize winning architect Richard Meier was tarnished in 2018 when five women accused him of sexual harassment, though no one is calling on the Getty Center to tear down the campus he designed.
The arts organizations that worked with Adjaye, or had planned to, did nothing wrong. But moving forward, those organizations might want to lengthen the lists of architects they consider for jobs. That would not only elevate more voices but also perhaps prevent the coalescence of power that leads to allegations like the ones surrounding Adjaye.