After a six-month search, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and Foundation has appointed Mariët Westermann as its next director and chief executive beginning June 1, 2024. Currently vice chancellor of New York University’s Abu Dhabi campus in the United Arab Emirates, Westermann will be the Guggenheim’s first woman director. She will lead its central New York institution and the Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice while working alongside leaders at the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao and the forthcoming Guggenheim Abu Dhabi.
A historian specializing in Netherlandish art and the former executive vice president of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, Westermann will replace Richard Armstrong, who announced his departure from the institution last year after a rocky 14 years at its helm. The cultural institution is still rebuilding its reputation in the wake of the October 2020 resignation of its Artistic Director and Chief Curator Nancy Spector, who left the Guggenheim after 34 years amid workers’ accusations of systemic racism and was replaced by Naomi Beckwith.
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Westermann will join the Guggenheim ahead of the completion of its controversial Abu Dhabi museum, slated to open in 2025. Since plans for the Frank Gehry-designed outpost were first announced in 2006, the project has been embroiled in allegations of labor abuse, with migrant workers in the region and advocates claiming unfair compensation and poor living conditions.
The new leadership appointment comes shortly after the New York museum’s newly unionized staff ratified their first contract following two years of negotiations during which the institution’s labor practices were highly scrutinized. Amid financial shortfalls attributed to the COVID-19 pandemic, the museum reduced its staff by 11% and supposedly slashed salaries for up to a quarter of its senior leadership, including Armstrong; however, a Hyperallergic report showed that the former director still made $1.5 million at the end of 2021 even after a 25% pay cut due to the institution’s deferred compensation plan. Citing financial pressures and rising operational costs, the museum raised its admission prices to $30 this summer, joining other institutions around the country including New York’s Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and the Art Institute of Chicago.
The Guggenheim and Westermann have not yet responded to Hyperallergic‘s inquiries about the institution’s plan to support unionized staffers and allegations surrounding the Abu Dhabi museum.