The Whitney Museum of American Art’s longtime director Adam Weinberg will depart later this year, the institution announced today. Weinberg will be succeeded by the museum’s current senior deputy director and chief curator, Scott Rothkopf, on November 1.
Weinberg has helmed the Whitney since 2003, and his 20-year tenure was marked by a multitude of institutional changes and controversies. The museum moved from the Upper East Side to a modern Renzo Piano building in the Meatpacking District in 2015. Two years later, the Whitney Biennial’s inclusion of Dana Schultz’s polarizing oil painting of the late Emmett Till laying mutilated in his casket drew protests calling for the work’s removal and destruction.
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In 2018, Hyperallergic reported that Whitney trustee and benefactor Warren Kanders owned Safariland, a defense weapons manufacturer that produced tear gas canisters for US border patrol agents to deploy on hundreds of migrants at the San Diego-Tijuana border. Days after Hyperallergic’s initial report, over 100 museum staff members produced and signed an open letter demanding that the museum acknowledge the listed allegations. This prompted an equal parts defensive and dismissive letter from Weinberg in which he stated that “we must live within the laws of society and observe the ‘rules’ of our Museum.”
In response, activist group Decolonize This Place — in conjunction with several other organizations — staged a “Nine Weeks of Art and Action” protest leading up to the 2019 Whitney Biennial to demand that the museum sever ties with Kanders, who eventually resigned that June.
In its announcement today, the museum credits Weinberg with growing the Whitney’s attendance, membership, and staffing numbers as well as its endowment, which has reached over $400 million. But Weinberg’s tenure also witnessed a grueling labor struggle. In April 2020, the museum laid off 76 workers in anticipation of pandemic-induced financial losses, dismissing another 15 employees the next year, resulting in a 20% slash to staff. Citing unlivable wages and job insecurity, Whitney staff announced their intent to unionize in May 2021, and the Whitney Museum Union was officially recognized two weeks later. Workers then bargained with leadership for 16 months (and held high-profile protests) until just earlier this week, when the union finally secured its first contract.
According to the Whitney’s press statement, Weinberg will become an honorary trustee of the museum’s board. He will continue to work on projects, such as the transformation of the Roy Lichtenstein Studio and Residence into the first permanent home of the Whitney’s Independent Study Program, until his departure as director this fall.
Hailing from Dallas with a degree in art history from Harvard University, Scott Rothkopf joined the Whitney as a curator in 2009. He has organized a number of exhibitions at the museum, including Jasper Johns: Mind/Mirror (2021 to 2022), Laura Owens (2017 to 2018), and Glenn Ligon: America (2011).