Late last June, on a warm New York night, the Hispanic Society Museum and Library invited hundreds of guests to a party celebrating the opening of In the Heights: From University to the Silver Screen, which traces the development of Lin-Manuel Miranda's musical about the nearby Dominican neighborhood, and Latinx Diaspora: Stories from Upper Manhattan, a mural show on the plaza.
But, Kientz says: "The Hispanic Society is not just Old Masters." Noting that the founder, Archer Huntington, also collected art of his time, Kientz says he too, plans to connect the Society to the art of the 20th and 21st centuries and to its Latino neighborhood.
A first-time director, Kientz, who had been a curator at the Louvre in Paris and the Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth, faces the same concerns as other museum chiefs—the pandemic, social justice concerns, unionization drives—and more. The museum's main galleries occupy an antiquated building that lacks air conditioning, does not comply with accessibility regulations and remains closed. Design work is starting on renovations of the building's main court, which will also allow access to the renowned Sorolla Vision of Spain Gallery, with a goal of finishing by early 2023. But further modifications are still not funded. According to Philippe de Montebello, the former director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art who chairs the Society's board, $15m to $20m has been raised; much more is needed before the whole building can reopen.
Kientz must help find that money—and devise programmes that expand the ranks of the Society's visitors and supporters. "My strategy is to be dynamic, to be on the map," he says.
Luisa Roldan's "Ecstasy of Mary Magdalene"
That show will be followed, in January 2022, by some of the museum's best-known treasures—temporarily returned from a world tour—but given "a new narrative" by a young guest curator (not yet named). Later in 2022, the East Building will present rarely shown watercolours made by American artists in Spain and Portugal, including Childe Hassam. Next autumn, a recent gift of 20 drawings by José Clemente Orozco, plus a painting in the collection, will go on view.
"The Dutchess of Alba"
Meanwhile, the paintings collection will resume its international tour next year, stopping in Toronto and London; 12 canvases will travel to the Spanish Gallery of the Auckland Project in Bishop Auckland, UK, with which a partnership has been forged.
Sometime soon, the Hispanic Society will announce the creation of a state-of-the-art conservation lab in the East Building. There are plans for more extensive educational programs and an affinity group supporting the library. Collective bargaining with the staff, which voted to unionize in July, will begin this fall. The Society's terraces must be restored. Kientz's agenda is full. Still, says de Monetbello, "He's already doing an amazing amount."