QUEEN BEEJ

Beej Nierengarten-Smith runs Laumeier Sculpture Park like her personal fiefdom. Despite the damage she's done, powerful allies keep her in charge.

Many in the art community argue that to report on the alleged improprieties places a blemish on the facility as a whole, not just Nierengarten-Smith. Rather than afflict the institution with bad publicity, they figure, it's best to leave things alone.

"It's a nice place," says one former executive-committee member. Former members of the Laumeier board observe that Westfall, whom many describe as "conflict-averse," is not going to get into a fight over an institution that has all the appearance of success.

But as much as Nierengarten-Smith is praised as a curator, acquisitions over the last four years have turned the facility into pockets of clutter rather than an integrated art experience. The area around the administrative offices is a hodgepodge of forms. Recent acquisitions now crowd Mauri's "La Casa della Memoria," which is apparently slated for removal anyway.

Recent acquisitions now crowd Giuliano Mauri's "La Casa della Memoria" (right foreground), which is apparently slated for removal.
Jennifer Silverberg
Recent acquisitions now crowd Giuliano Mauri's "La Casa della Memoria" (right foreground), which is apparently slated for removal.

Nierengarten-Smith's curatorial abilities have reached the level of myth: the park that Beej built. That myth still carries some weight, so much so that her allies seem to believe her to be irreplaceable: People such as Aronson, Orchard, Harmon, Wolff, Mooney and, apparently, Westfall -- who declined to be interviewed for this story -- have concluded that despite the numerous protestations, she's got what it takes. Politics, it is said, makes for strange bedfellows. Art and politics make for stranger bedfellows still. It's enough to give wealth and power a bad name.

Are complaints about Nierengarten-Smith overblown? Is she just demanding excellence?

Krevenas answers these questions most succinctly: "Everybody in the institution has left but her."

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