Brooklyn Museum’s Longtime Director Arnold Lehman Retires

Arnold Lehman.
Photo: © 2014 Patrick McMullan Company, Inc.

After 17 years at the helm of the Brooklyn Museum, Arnold Lehman is retiring. He will step down around June of 2015.

“My seventeen years to date at the helm of this remarkable institution have been challenging, exhilarating, and immensely rewarding,” Lehman said in a statement. “I believe that the Brooklyn Museum is well-positioned to continue its successful trajectory, serving its diverse community and visitors as a visionary leader in the museum world. I will leave the Museum in the hands of a dedicated new Board Chair, Elizabeth Sackler, and incredibly committed Trustees and staff. I especially look forward, as an ongoing advocate and cheerleader, to seeing this truly extraordinary art museum continue to be a pace-setter under the leadership of my successor.”

The institution’s longtime director, who turned 70 earlier this summer, has seen annual attendance more than double, from 247,000 at the beginning of his tenure to 558,788 in 2013, and has accomplished a similar feat with the institution’s endowment, which ballooned from $55 million in 1997 to $123 million today, the New York Times reports. He has also spearheaded the museum’s First Saturdays initiatives, when attendance is free and activities like concerts and parties take place throughout the institution. He also oversaw the renovation of the museum’s research library and the construction of its new entry plaza and lobby.

But Lehman’s tenure wasn’t all smooth sailing. He faced criticism over populist exhibitions that were perceived by many observers to be pandering, most infamously 2002’s “Star Wars: The Magic of Myth.” The museum also became the newest front in America’s culture wars when it hosted the exhibition “Sensation: Young British Artists From the Saatchi Collection” in 1999, and a Chris Ofili painting of the Virgin Mary incorporating elephant dung sparked a vehement crusade by conservatives and Christians.

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