Gregory Burke, director of the Power Plant, one of the country’s most important not-for-profit contemporary art galleries, has announced his resignation, effective the end of May.
No reason for his departure was cited in a media release issued by the Toronto gallery on Tuesday, nor was there any indication where Burke would be taking his talents next. In a brief interview, he said he had been “thinking about [resigning]for a while. The major part of it is that on March 9 we’ll will be launching the most significant capital development in the Power Plant since it opened” – a reference to the gallery’s new lobby, reception area and store, designed by the award-winning Kuwabara Payne McKenna Blumberg Architects.
“And since it was coming to the end of a five-year strategic plan that I put in place, it seemed like a good time to think of another chapter in my career.” As for that next chapter, Burke said: “There’s nothing I’m in a position to announce at this point.”
Sources indicate that no one incident precipitated Burke’s resignation, which was presented to the Power Plant board on Monday afternoon before being put in a release on Tuesday.
The directorship of the Power Plant has been regarded as “a very tough job,” in the words of one Toronto art insider, ever since the gallery opened in mid-1987 in a converted generating station on the shore of Lake Ontario. Not only must the director report to a board, the gallery operates as a division of Harbourfront Centre, an umbrella organization that runs a potpourri of Toronto waterfront activities and cultural programs, including an authors festival, a craft studio, an outdoor skating rink and a dance theatre.
While the Power Plant job has attracted several stellar names over the years – for instance, Marc Mayer, current head of the National Gallery of Canada, served as director from 1997 to 2001 – the gallery has experienced several bouts of financial distress, curatorial power struggles and staff turnovers.
Burke was named director of the Power Plant in June, 2005, succeeding Wayne Baerwaldt (now at the Alberta College of Art + Design in Calgary), and assumed the job in the fall of that year. By the time his stint ends, he will have been the longest-serving of the six men who have helmed the gallery since its opening.
A native of New Zealand, Burke came to Canada from the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery in New Plymouth, where he was director for seven years. During his time in New Zealand, he earned a reputation as one of the country’s premier liaisons with the international art scene. He was curator for New Zealand at the Venice Biennale in 2001 and commissioner of the country’s pavilion at the 2005 Venice biennale.
As part of his five-year plan for the Power Plant, Burke launched the All Summer, All Free program in 2006, providing free admission and dramatically increased attendance. He commissioned major new international projects from artists such as Berlin’s Candice Breitz, New York’s Lawrence Weiner, Vancouver’s Ian Wallace and Berlin’s Simon Starling and brought in numerous speakers, including New York art critic Jerry Saltz, art historian Thomas Crow and Iwona Blazwick, curator of London’s famous Whitechapel Gallery. Among the exhibitions he curated were Recent Snow: Projected Works by Michael Snow, Francesco Vezzoli: A True Hollywood Story! and Simon Goldin + Jakob Senneby: Headless.
Burke is married to Canadian artist Christine Davis and they have a son. So “the family obviously is a priority in my life,” he observed. “But that doesn’t mean to say we won’t move at some point. ... Obviously the opportunities for someone in my position are more plentiful if you look around the world.”