Guggenheim Museum director Richard Armstrong announces plans to step down

Guggenheim Museum director Richard Armstrong announces plans to step down

The Guggenheim’s endowment has more than doubled under Armstrong’s leadership, according to the institution. His tenure has “expanded global initiatives to broaden the geographical scope of the museum’s collection and activities,” a release from the Guggenheim reads in part.

“As leader of the institution, he consolidated the Guggenheim’s global expansion with a thoughtful, experimental, and artist-centered approach,” the release continues.

Major shows during Armstrong’s tenure included illuminating surveys devoted to Agnes Martin, Maurizio Cattelan, On Kawara and Hilma af Klint ⁠— the last proving to be the museum’s most-visited show ever, and one that spurred a 34 percent increase in museum memberships.

Even so, the Guggenheim has waded into controversy in recent years. An anonymous band of curators in 2020 sent a letter to the musuem’s leadership, including Armstrong, to decry “an inequitable work environment that enables racism, white supremacy, and other discriminatory practices.”

The letter came shortly after protests erupted around the United States following a police officer’s murder of George Floyd, a Black man whose death prompted an outcry for racial justice and calls for reform to policing and other institutions.

The museum responded with a diversity, equity, access and inclusion plan, which among other things sought to strengthen the process for reporting claims of discrimination.

In another development, different groups of Guggenheim employees moved to unionize on Armstrong’s watch — one in 2019, another in 2021 — with the institution ultimately releasing a statement last year saying it “recognizes the right of its employees to enter collective bargaining.”

In a statement accompanying the Guggenheim’s release on Friday, Armstrong said he was “proud of what we have accomplished” — namely, “caring for the staff, embracing principles around DEAI and sustainability, defining our brand for the future, and coming through the pandemic with financial health.”

As for what’s next, Armstrong told the FT he would “stay involved with art” following his departure.

“I don’t have any other vocabulary,” he said.

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