Okwui Enwezor Steps Down as Director of Munich’s Haus Der Kunst, Citing Health Reasons

The star curator had an ambitious but turbulent tenure.

Okwui Enwezor. Photo: Photo: Stefania D'Alessandro/Getty Images for Prada.

The renowned curator Okwui Enwezor has resigned from his role as director of Munich’s Haus Der Kunst for health reasons. The 54-year-old will step down immediately, the Bavarian Ministry of Culture announced today. His contract with the German museum was dissolved on Friday.

“There is never an ideal time to say goodbye, but I’m stepping down at a time when the Haus Der Kunst has reached a strong artistic position,” Enwezor told the German press agency DPA

Bavarian culture minister Marion Kiechle, who is also chairman of the institution’s board, praised the exhibition program Enwezor built during his seven-year tenure, which she said significantly strengthened the museum’s international standing.

“Through his curatorial expertise, the institution experienced worldwide renown,” she said in a statement. The country’s preeminent contemporary art institution, which lacks a collection, is located inside what is considered Nazi Germany’s first monumental work of Nazi architecture.

When the Nigerian-born curator joined the museum as director in 2011, his appointment—as an African curator leading a museum built by the Nazis—was regarded as highly symbolic. During his tenure, Enwezor developed an innovative and forward-thinking exhibition program that presented a more global version of Modern and contemporary art than is often recounted in history books. Highlights include last year’s “Postwar: Art Between the Pacific and the Atlantic, 1945–1965,” a hugely ambitious global survey of the postwar era, and a recent retrospective of the Guyanese-born British painter Frank Bowling.

But Enwezor’s tenure was also marked by instability and turbulence. Beginning in 2012, the museum faced several years of funding shortfalls. In 2017, the Bavarian culture ministry appointed a CEO to work alongside Enwezor and keep the institution’s budget in line. Last March, the Bavarian state security agency also investigated claims that the museum had been infiltrated by Scientologists. The man at the center of the scandal, a personnel manager for security staff, was also accused of sexual harassment.

Enwezor has held many high-profile curatorial roles throughout his long career. In 2002, he served as artistic director of documenta 11, the first non-European to organize the quinquennial. He was also curator of the 2015 Venice Biennale.

Until Enwezor’s full-time replacement is appointed, the institution’s lead curator Ulrich Wilmes and CEO Bernhard Spies will serve as joint directors. The search for a permanent replacement is now underway. The new director will be tasked with overseeing David Chipperfield’s controversial renovation of the historically charged building, which is scheduled to begin in 2020.

Earlier this year, the municipal government offered the Haus der Kunst a €1.2 million ($1.5 million) boost in funding and the museum released a statement with a winking reference to its multiple crises and controversies, calling for “exciting art, but no more excitement.”

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