Holly Block, helped revitalize international profile of Bronx Museum of Arts with vision, determination
NEW YORK – Holly Block, the director of the Bronx Museum of the Arts and a longtime cultural force in New York, died Friday at her home in Manhattan. She was 58.
Her partner, Dana Emmott, said the cause was breast cancer.
As an arts administrator Block moved just outside the white-hot center of the New York art world, where the city’s alternative spaces and smaller museums overlap and cross-fertilize and personal determination and vision can have a big impact.
Possessing both qualities, Block transformed the two institutions she served as director – Art in General, an alternative space then in TriBeCa, and the Bronx Museum – reshaping and expanding their local and international profiles.
Her convictions about the importance of diversity, inclusiveness and community outreach, and about the global nature of contemporary art, were ahead of their time.
At the Bronx Museum, on the Grand Concourse near East 165th Street, Block’s achievements included lifting all admission fees in 2012 and increasing annual attendance to 100,000 visitors from 25,000. At the same time, this relatively small museum sponsored the exhibition that represented the United States at the Venice Biennale in 2013.
The featured artist for the exhibition was Sarah Sze, whose intricate installation, made from everyday objects and materials, filled the American pavilion.
Block and Carey Lovelace, a critic and independent curator, had proposed Sze to the State Department and organized the exhibition.
Tom Finkelpearl, commissioner of the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, wrote in an email that Block’s death “will not diminish the legacy of her creative, vibrant and effective leadership in New York’s cultural community.”
Block was born Dec. 24, 1958, in Princeton, N.J. Arriving on Christmas Eve, she was named for the holiday’s traditional greenery. Her father, A. Harvey Block, was an experimental psychologist; her mother, the former Cielle Fink, was assistant dean of the school of higher education at the Catholic University of America in Washington.
Block graduated from Georgetown Day School in Washington and attended Bennington College in Vermont, earning a bachelor’s degree in photography and sculpture in 1980. She briefly studied photography at the San Francisco Art Institute.
Block returned to Washington in 1981 and worked at a commercial gallery there organizing exhibitions. She then spent three years at the Washington Project for the Arts, a nonprofit alternative space, first as office manager and then as programs coordinator.
She joined the Bronx Museum in 1985, becoming curator of off-site galleries and starting a museum program to make art more accessible to the public.
In addition to Emmott, she is survived by her brother, Eben; her stepmother, Margaret Almazan; and her half brother, Charles Block-Almazan.