With his family’s Hill Art Foundation set to open a public exhibition space on two floors of a Peter Marino–designed tower on West 24th Street in New York’s Chelsea neighborhood this November, finance maven and ARTnews “Top 200” collector J. Tomilson Hill has hired Sarah Needham, a program officer at the Stavros Niarchos Foundation, as its executive director.
“Sarah brings a very organized, disciplined, business-like approach,” Hill said in an interview yesterday, noting that she both holds an M.B.A. from NYU and spent four years at Lincoln Center, where her activities included organizing a showing of Christian Marclay’s video The Clock (2010), loaned from the collection of Jill and Peter Kraus.
“I’m looking forward to bringing the network I’ve built to the foundation—and the knowledge that I’ve gained of the needs that are out there in terms of arts education,” Needham said in an interview, referring to her time at the Niarchos Foundation, where she was involved with grant programs and the development of an arts center in Athens designed by Renzo Piano.
In her new position, Needham will run a foundation that manages a collection rich in modern and contemporary art, as well as the work of Old Masters, particularly in bronze. (A memorable 2014 show at the Frick Collection juxtaposed such disparate holdings in very fine style.) The institution currently plans to stage an exhibition program at its soon-to-open home and aims to develop a robust educational program.
“The beauty of having a business person who knows strategy as our director is that she has the ability to go meet with everybody who is involved in arts education right now, to see what’s working, what’s not working, what’s state of the art, what are best practices,” said Hill, who referred to his foundation as a “startup.”
Hill, who is chairman of Blackstone Alternative Asset Management and on the executive committees of the boards of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Friends of the High Line, said that Kara Medoff Barnett, the executive director of American Ballet Theatre, had suggested Needham as a possible candidate to head the foundation. “She has a rare combination of aesthetic intelligence, emotional intelligence, and business acumen,” Barnett said in a statement.
During her time at the Niarchos Foundation and Lincoln Center, Needham also worked with Richard Armstrong, the director of the Guggenheim Museum, who said in an email, “Sarah Needham is a gifted executive who is at home in the New York art world. She is a good and promising choice for the Hill Foundation.”
The Hill Foundation—whose secretary is Hill’s wife, Janine, and whose director of programming and curator for emerging artists is his daughter Astrid—will open with a show of 21 paintings by Christopher Wool from its collection, expanding on a show it presented in Hong Kong during Art Basel earlier this year. In Hill’s estimation, as many as 2,000 people saw the Wool exhibition in Hong Kong each day.
The debut New York show will run into the spring, but Hill has already been cooking up ideas for later exhibitions while continuing to make acquisitions, like a Valentin Bousch stained glass work and a Foggini Laocoön. “I’ve always wanted to do a Bacon-Rubens show,” he said, as one example of a possible future venture, arguing that Rubens influenced the 20th-century painter. (The Hills own five works by Rubens and four by Bacon.)
“I need a partner to actually help me execute,” Hill said, expanding on his decision to go with Needham. “Because you can have all these ideas, but the key is execution.”