The art world was buzzing with anticipation as the Guggenheim Museum made a surprising announcement. Mariët Westermann, currently the Vice Chancellor of NYU Abu Dhabi, was revealed as the next Director and CEO of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and Foundation. This appointment marks a significant moment in the institution’s history as Westermann steps into a role that has been held by Richard Armstrong for the past 15 years. In this blog post, we will delve into the background and achievements of Mariët Westermann and explore the implications of her appointment for the Guggenheim Museum and the art world as a whole.

A Unique Choice

Mariët Westermann’s selection as the new director of the Guggenheim Museum comes as a surprise to many in the art world. Prior to the announcement, speculation was rife about potential successors to Armstrong, with most names coming from directors of US-based museums. Westermann’s selection breaks from this tradition, but the museum’s board sees her as an excellent fit for the role. They cited her “proven track record of successfully leading world-renowned organizations in higher education and philanthropy, dedicated to the arts and humanities” as one of the key factors in her appointment.

Westermann’s Background

Mariët Westermann is a historian of Dutch art who has been associated with NYU since 2002. She started as the director and professor at NYU’s Institute of Fine Arts and later became the Provost of NYU Abu Dhabi from 2007 to 2010. In 2019, she returned to NYU Abu Dhabi as the Vice Chancellor and Chief Executive. Her achievements at NYU Abu Dhabi include recruiting the university’s first Nobel Laureate, Wole Soyinka, establishing MFA and MBA programs, and developing the institution’s first Climate Action Plan.

Westermann’s career is marked by a commitment to the arts and culture. She has served as the associate director of research at the Clark Art Institute at Williams College and was on the faculty of Rutgers University. From 2010 to 2019, she worked as the Executive Vice President at the Mellon Foundation. Additionally, Westermann has experience as a curator and played pivotal roles in organizing significant exhibitions, such as “Art and Home: Dutch Interiors in the Age of Rembrandt” and “Jan Steen: Painter and Storyteller.”

A New Era for the Guggenheim

Mariët Westermann’s appointment heralds a new era for the Guggenheim Museum. She is not only the third woman to lead the institution but also the first to serve as both Director and CEO. This combination of roles highlights her unique vision and leadership style. The Guggenheim’s first director, Hilla von Rebay, was an artist who worked closely with Solomon Guggenheim in establishing the Museum of Non-Objective Painting in 1937. Since then, the museum has had a total of only five directors, including Westermann.

In addition to overseeing the iconic Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Guggenheim Museum in New York, Westermann will be responsible for the Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice and will provide collaborative leadership to the directors of Guggenheim Museum Bilbao in Spain and the upcoming Guggenheim Abu Dhabi. Her role will also likely include bringing to fruition an extension of the Guggenheim Bilbao in Urdaibai, a natural reserve east of the museum.

A Vision for the Future

Upon her appointment, Westermann expressed her excitement and dedication to the Guggenheim’s mission. She described the Guggenheim as a “constellation of museums” united by a shared goal of connecting people with the transformative power of art and artists. She emphasized her belief in the importance of local environments and communities, hinting at a commitment to making the Guggenheim a global institution with deep roots in its locations.

Conclusion

Mariët Westermann’s appointment as the new Director and CEO of the Guggenheim Museum and Foundation marks a significant shift in the institution’s leadership. With her background in academia, philanthropy, and the arts, she brings a unique perspective to the role. As the Guggenheim Museum looks towards the future, Westermann’s vision and leadership will undoubtedly shape its path, ensuring that it continues to inspire and connect people through the power of art. The art world eagerly awaits her official start date on June 1, 2024, as the Guggenheim enters a new and promising chapter under her guidance.

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