The Sydney art world has been abuzz with speculation about the city’s key arts institutions when news broke that Suhanya Raffel, Deputy Director and Director of Collection at Sydney’s Art Gallery of New South Wales (AGNSW), will be leaving her post for a senior-level position at a museum in Asia. Today, it was revealed that Raffel will take over as director of Hong Kong’s M+ museum, a role vacated by Lars Nittve earlier this year in January.
Raffel joined AGNSW as collections manager in 2013, and just last year took on responsibilities as deputy director after her predecessor Anne Flanagan, who has been with the institution for 23 years, retired in May. Raffel’s sudden departure raises concerns about the management at AGNSW and spurs even more worry about its plans to transform into the Sydney Modern, a project that requires AUD 450 million (USD 343 million) and has yet to receive sufficient funding. Anticipation has been building for the new Sydney museum, slated for completion in 2021, which will display pieces from both local and international contemporary artists.
AGNSW director Michael Brand launched the ambitious Sydney Modern project in March 2013, and the announcement was quickly followed up by a commitment of AUD 14.8 million (USD 11.3 million) from the New South Wales state government in June. Since then, there has been no further news of additional funding coming from either the public or the private sector. And with this being the last year of Brand’s five-year contract with AGNSW and the project being continuously overlooked in the state budget, the fate of the Sydney Modern is becoming increasingly uncertain.
Raffel’s move to Hong Kong will also influence the leadership structure of Sydney’s National Art School (NAS) as her husband, Michael Snelling, is the director of the institution. With the possibility of NAS joining with the upcoming merger between University of Sydney—as it will be closing its Sydney College of the Arts—and the University of NSW Art and Design, the future independence of NAS is also in question.
Raffel is a respected curator and scholar, especially in the field of contemporary Asian art. Prior to joining the AGNSW, she played an instrumental role at the Queensland Art Gallery in Brisbane, where she had worked since 1994. There she steered the prestigious Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art, served as deputy director of curatorial and collection development, and from 2012 as its acting director.
Official announcement of Raffel’s appointment at M+ will take place on Wednesday, July 20, 2016.