Home / Arts & Life / Holly Block, Director of the Bronx Museum, Dies at 58

Holly Block, Director of the Bronx Museum, Dies at 58

At the Bronx Museum, on the Grand Concourse near East 165th Street, Ms. 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.

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The Bronx Museum of the Arts.

Credit
G. Paul Burnett/The New York Times

The featured artist for the exhibition was Sarah Sze, whose intricate installation, made from everyday objects and materials, filled the American pavilion.

Ms. Block and Carey Lovelace, a critic and independent curator, had proposed Ms. 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 Ms. Block’s death “will not diminish the legacy of her creative, vibrant and effective leadership in New York’s cultural community.”

Ms. Block was born on 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.

Ms. 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.

Ms. 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, a position that involved fund-raising.

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Ms. Block at the Bronx Museum in 2014.

Credit
Tina Fineberg for The New York Times

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. Working with an annual budget of $100,000 (about $230,000 in today’s money), she organized as many as 40 pop-up exhibitions (as they would now be called) around the Bronx each year in places like Hostos Community College and the corporate headquarters of Krasdale Foods.

She was also instrumental in establishing the museum’s annual Art in the Marketplace seminar series, which offers career guidance to emerging artists and culminates in an exhibition of their work at the museum.

Ms. Block became director of Art in General in 1988. Over the next 16 years she was involved in staging exhibitions of work by nearly 4,000 artists, often unknown, from around the world.

She also initiated an international artist residency there, began a new commissions series that enabled artists to execute and exhibit ambitious works, and helped organize traveling exhibitions of the work of Emma Amos, Cecilia Vicuña, Maria Elena González and Alberto Casado. (Art in General moved to 145 Plymouth Street in the Dumbo neighborhood of Brooklyn in 2016.)

In 2003, Ms. Block was a commissioner for the American contribution to the Cairo Biennial featuring the work of the sculptor, photographer and video artist Paul Pfeiffer. She also edited and contributed to “Art Cuba: The New Generation,” a 2001 book published by Harry N. Abrams.

Ms. Block returned to the Bronx Museum as director in 2006, just as a new wing, designed by the international firm Arquitectonica, was being unveiled. In 2016, the museum announced a capital campaign to establish an endowment and to renovate and expand its building according to a design by the architect Monica Pónce de León, dean of the Princeton University School of Architecture.

Ms. Block’s marriage to John Morton ended in divorce. In addition to Mr. Emmott, she is survived by her brother, Eben; her stepmother, Margaret Almazan; and her half brother, Charles Block-Almazan.

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