Guggenheim director resigns

Richard Armstrong, director of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, said he plans to retire next year, completing more than 14 years at the...


Richard Armstrong, director of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, said he plans to retire next year, completing more than 14 years at the helm of the institution and its international offshoots.

Armstrong, 73, whose tenure included resisting the pandemic and responding to calls for change around racial inequality, both internally and on museum walls, announced the move to a interview with the Financial Times which was published on Friday.

“Next spring,” he said in the interview, “I will be leaving the museum. It will soon be 15 years and it’s a long time. The board is rejuvenated and active, it’s a good time .

In a press release, the museum said that before Armstrong steps down in 2023, it will work with its board to find his successor.

Under his leadership, Armstrong has been tasked in recent years with responding to organizing efforts and an outcry about what members of the museum’s curatorial department have called an “unequal work environment that allows racism, white supremacy, and other discriminatory practices.” Armstrong responded to demands for change by initiating conversations with conservatives, saying he saw an opportunity to become a more diverse and equitable organization.

The museum then approved a to plan to address these complaints, making it one of the first major cultural organizations to provide details of an expanded diversity effort amid calls for industry-wide change. The plan included promises to strengthen policies for reporting discrimination, and a new committee was tasked with reviewing the institution’s exhibits and acquisitions through an equity and diversity lens.

After one of the museum’s top trustees, Nancy Spector, resigned over accusations of racism, the museum named Naomi Beckwith to succeed her, making it the institution first black deputy director and chief curator. (After a black conservative, ChaĆ©dria LaBouvier, accused of racism by Spector, an independent investigation completed there was no evidence that the curator had been “subjected to adverse treatment because of her race”.) Another one leadership an upheaval followed later that year, when the billionaire collector J. Tomilson Hill was named chairman of the board, and writer Claudia Rankine was elected its second black director. In a statement accompanying the announcement, Hill said Armstrong has ably guided the museum through the pandemic, calling it a “stable and encouraging presence.”

The announcement comes on the heels of news of a major leadership change at the Metropolitan Museum, where Daniel H. Weiss said he would quit as President and CEO in June 2023.

amstrong became director of the museum in 2008, succeeding Thomas Krens, an expansionist leader who transformed the Guggenheim into a global brand with Guggenheim Bilbao. Armstrong came from the Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh, which he directed for a dozen years. Interviewed after being named manager, Armstrong said he aimed to put on shows that showcased the work of young artists, which he often did.

Armstrong also oversaw a particularly tumultuous period several years ago as the Guggenheim sought to expand overseas with a new museum in Abu Dhabi. The project met protests and demands for assurances that laborers would be paid and treated fairly, which led Armstrong to promise that the museum was deeply committed to labor issues. The long-delayed project is expected to be completed in 2025, after Armstrong’s departure.

Another major change under Armstrong came earlier this year, when the Guggenheim quietly erased the Sackler name of an education center on the family’s ties to the opioid crisis.

“As a leadership team, we have listened, learned and adapted to respond to the changing dynamics of our program, our brand, our audience and our funders,” Armstrong said in a statement. “I look forward to seeing the Guggenheim community continue to thrive and be a catalyst for inventive thinking and transformative artistic experiences long after I’m gone.”

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