Director of the Guggenheim resigns

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

Armstrong, 73, whose tenure has included weathering the pandemic and responding to calls for changes related to racial inequalities both internally and on the walls of the museum, announced the move in an interview with the Financial Times, which was released on Friday.

“Sometime next spring,” he said in an interview, “I’m leaving the museum. It will be almost 15 years until then, and that’s a long time. The board is rejuvenated and active – this is a good moment.”

In a press release, the museum said that before he resigns in 2023, Armstrong will work with its board of trustees to find his successor.

Under his leadership, Armstrong has been tasked in recent years with responding to union organizing efforts and an outcry over what members of the museum’s curatorial department described as an “unfair work environment that enables racism, white supremacy and other discriminatory practices.” Armstrong responded to calls for change by initiating discussions with the trustees, saying he saw it as an opportunity to become a more diverse and equitable organization.

The museum later approved a plan to handle these complaints, becoming one of the first major cultural organizations to provide details of an expanded diversity effort in the face of industry calls for change. The plan included a promise to strengthen policies on reporting discrimination, and a new committee was tasked with examining the institution’s exhibits and acquisitions from the perspective of equity and diversity.

After one of the museum’s top administrators, Nancy Spector, resigned over allegations of racism, the museum named Naomi Beckwith to succeed her, making her the institution’s first black associate director and chief curator. (After a black curator, Chaédria LaBouvier, accused Spector of racism, an independent investigation concluded that there was no evidence the curator “was subjected to adverse treatment because of her race.”) Another leadership reshuffle followed later that year, when billionaire J. Tomilson Hill was named chairman of the board and writer Claudia Rankine was elected the second-ever black female trustee. In a statement accompanying the announcement, Hill said Armstrong has deftly guided the museum through the pandemic, calling him a “steady and encouraging presence.”

The announcement closely follows news of a major leadership change at the Metropolitan Museum, where Daniel H. Weiss said he will step down as president and chief executive in June 2023.

Armstrong became the museum’s director in 2008, succeeding Thomas Krens, an expansive leader who transformed the Guggenheim into a global brand with the Guggenheim Bilbao. Armstrong came from the Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh, which he directed for a dozen years. Interviewed after his appointment as director, Armstrong said he intended to present shows that would highlight the work of young artists, which he often did.

Armstrong was also overseeing a particularly turbulent period a few years ago when the Guggenheim was attempting to expand overseas with a new museum in Abu Dhabi. The project was met with protests and calls for assurances that workers would be paid and treated fairly, leading to promises from Armstrong that the museum was strong on labor issues. The long-delayed project is scheduled to be completed after Armstrong’s departure in 2025.

Another big shift under Armstrong came earlier this year, when the Guggenheim quietly erased the Sackler name from an educational center because of the family’s ties to the opioid crisis.

“As the leadership team, we have listened, learned and adapted to meet 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 art experiences long after I’ve left.”

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