As cultural establishments everywhere in the nation battle to make a case for themselves in a digital world, and job descriptions for arts leaders have grown more and more complicated, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and Basis on Monday introduced that it had named Mariët Westermann director and chief government of its museum group. Westermann, the vice chancellor of N.Y.U. Abu Dhabi within the United Arab Emirates, would be the first girl to direct the whole museum group, overseeing the Basis and its flagship establishment in New York, in addition to its international outposts in Venice, Bilbao, Spain, and the long run Guggenheim Abu Dhabi.
“She has run a significant operation out of the country,” mentioned the museum’s chairman, J. Tomilson Hill. “She’s bought nice credibility within the artwork world, and she’s going to be capable to entice and retain extraordinary curators and different proficient professionals.”
The selection of Westermann, 61, to interchange Richard Armstrong, who retired as director final summer season, is one thing of a shock, on condition that she shouldn’t be knowledgeable museum director and her title doesn’t sometimes seem on the listing of candidates.
However she is acquainted to many within the artwork world, having beforehand served as government vice chairman on the Andrew W. Mellon Basis, which helps cultural establishments; as former director of N.Y.U.’s Institute of Advantageous Arts, which has skilled artwork historians, curators and future museum administrators; and as affiliate director of analysis on the Clark Artwork Institute in Williamstown, Mass. In 2019, she grew to become vice chancellor at N.Y.U. Abu Dhabi, the place she can also be the chief government and a professor of arts and humanities.
“I do know the readability of her considering, the care she has for artwork and artists, and her dedication to the sector,” mentioned Glenn D. Lowry, the director of the Museum of Trendy Artwork. “I feel she’ll make an impressive colleague.”
In selecting a college chief as a museum chief, the Guggenheim follows the Metropolitan Museum of Artwork’s alternative of Daniel H. Weiss, president and chief government, who stepped down earlier this 12 months; the American Museum of Pure Historical past, which final 12 months named Sean M. Decatur as its new president; and the J. Paul Getty Belief, which final 12 months appointed Katherine E. Fleming as its subsequent president and chief government.
A graduate of Williams School — the place she was magna cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa — Westermann went on to earn a Ph.D. and grasp’s diploma from N.Y.U.’s Institute of Advantageous Arts. Westermann is a historian of the artwork of the Netherlands, publishing books together with “A Worldly Artwork: The Dutch Republic 1585—1718” and “Rembrandt—Artwork and Concepts.”
Beginning June 1, Westermann will step into the function held for 14 years by Armstrong. She’s going to transfer to Manhattan to run the Guggenheim, which now has three satellites along with New York: Bilbao, Venice and Abu Dhabi, on Saadiyat Island.
There have been different feminine leaders within the museum’s historical past. Lisa Dennison was director of the Guggenheim’s New York department from 2005 to 2007. Hilla Rebay was a founder and a co-director of the Museum of Non-Goal Portray, the forerunner of the Guggenheim, however left in 1952 earlier than the museum was constructed. Peggy Guggenheim, a niece of Solomon R. Guggenheim and a number one curator, collected fashionable artwork that grew to become a part of the Guggenheim Basis in 1976; her palazzo in Venice was donated in 1970.
At the moment, the museum is being led by three of its deputy administrators: Naomi Beckwith, the chief curator; Sarah Austrian, the final counsel and secretary; and Marcy Withington, the chief monetary officer and performing chief working officer.
Westermann will take over an establishment nonetheless therapeutic from a interval of turmoil that included a 2020 letter from “The Curatorial Division” decrying what it known as an “inequitable work atmosphere that permits racism”; the departure of a high administrator, Nancy Spector, who was later cleared of prices of discrimination; removing of the Sackler title from an training heart in 2022 after protesters known as consideration to that household’s ties to the opioid disaster; and greater than two years of bargaining over a union contract that was lastly ratified final August. Just lately, the Guggenheim quickly closed its entrance on Fifth Avenue after a protest contained in the museum denouncing Israel’s army airstrikes in Gaza.
Furthermore, the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi — designed by Frank Gehry, who additionally did the museum’s Bilbao satellite tv for pc in Spain — has been delayed, partly by protests over the plight of migrant staff on the venture, however is now scheduled to open in 2026.
Westermann mentioned it was too quickly for her to say something about Guggenheim Abu Dhabi, “besides that I’ve been excited to see the constructing rising so close to to me in a really exceptional district of establishments of artwork, pure historical past, science and tradition.”
She added that she was properly conscious of the hurdles concerned in working “4 very distinctive museums in 4 distinguished buildings in 4 very dynamic cities.”
“The calls for on museum administrators at the moment are very sophisticated,” she mentioned. “The ability set you want for a constellation just like the Guggenheim is a problem and alternative that appears properly mapped onto the sorts of experiences I’ve had.”
Westermann could have the daunting activity of getting Guggenheim Abu Dhabi over the end line and making that new location a vacation spot at a time of turmoil within the Center East.
Some within the artwork world will inevitably bemoan the Guggenheim appointment as one more missed alternative to nominate an individual of shade at a time when the world has grown extra delicate to the shortage of Black and Latino museum chiefs.
However the Guggenheim has made some progress on variety, appointing Ashley James as a full-time curator in 2019 and Beckwith as deputy director and chief curator in 2021.
And Hill mentioned a lot of these thought of throughout the Guggenheim’s seek for a brand new director “have been folks of shade,” including that the museum had merely selected “one of the best individual for our wants.”
Mellon was one in all 4 funding teams — together with the Ford Basis, the Alice L. Walton Basis and Pilot Home Philanthropy — that final Could established the Management in Artwork Museums initiative, which dedicated greater than $11 million to museums to extend racial fairness in management growth.
“Range, inclusion and fairness are a core duty of any group at the moment,” Westermann mentioned. “It doesn’t matter if you’re a museum, a college, a company or a authorities company.”
In conducting its search, the museum totally examined “what the Guggenheim is, what the Guggenheim might be, what are our failings, what are our successes,” Hill mentioned, likening that course of to “having remedy.”
Hill mentioned he personally had consulted eight folks within the discipline whose opinions he values, together with Nicholas Serota, the previous director of the Tate in Britain; Laurence des Automobiles, the present director of the Louvre Museum in Paris; Lonnie G. Bunch III, Secretary of the Smithsonian; and the artwork supplier Larry Gagosian.
The Guggenheim decided its subsequent director wanted worldwide expertise but additionally needed to be “somebody subtle in coping with governmental entities,” Hill added, “and in a position to not simply be a spokesperson for our museum however to deal with complicated negotiations.
“You want management within the job,” he added, “however you additionally profoundly want sturdy administration abilities.”
Darren Walker, president of the Ford Basis who has labored intently with Westermann, introduced up one other qualification that he thought was important for the job.
“It takes somebody who has international administration,” he continued, “which she does.”
Westermann mentioned her expertise with universities had ready her properly for overseeing a posh of 4 museums by which “the worldwide is already native and the native impacts the worldwide.
“I stay up for bringing these areas collectively,” she added, “so that you get an actual sense of 1 Guggenheim.”