Frankfurt Museums Director Max Hollein to Head Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco

Frankfurt's Städel, Schirn, and Liebighaus museums flourished under his leadership.

Max Hollein
Photo: Gaby Gerster

The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco (FAMSF) announced on Tuesday, March 22, the appointment of Max Hollein as new director. Hollein will take up the position on June 1.

After more than fifteen years in Frankfurt am Main, Austrian-born Max Hollein is resigning as head of the Städel Museum and the Liebieghaus Sculpture Collection—where he has served since 2006—and the Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt—which he has headed since 2001—to helm one of the largest public arts institution in Northern California, including the de Young Museum and the Legion of Honor.

Hollein will replace Colin Bailey, who left the FAMSF in April 2015—only two years into his tenure—to become director of the Morgan Library & Museum in New York City.

Hollein, who oversaw the expansion of the Städel Museum in 2012 doubling its gallery space and adding a wing for contemporary art, also has experience at the Guggenheim Museum in New York under his belt, where he started his career after studying art history and business administration in Vienna.

Jack Calhoun, Chairman of the selection committee, stressed Hollein’s experience in successfully heading multiple institutions at once. “Hollein’s combined art and finance perspective, his impressive background simultaneously leading three great art institutions in Frankfurt, his fund raising acumen, and his ability to harness technology and new media to increase income and engage audiences, make him a perfect match for the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco,” he said in a statement.

“Under his tenure, the Städel Museum experienced its most significant growth in history, and we are excited to benefit from his experience and innovative approach,” he added.

Hollein also spearheaded the Städel’s new digital initiatives to develop a platform, in cooperation with the University of Applied Science in Darmstadt and the company Software AG, which allows users to experience the museum’s collection. As the Art Newspaper points out, this type of forward thinking will likely endear him to San Francisco’s tech community.

In a statement released this morning by the Städel museum, Hollein echoes the sentiment. “The American West Coast in general and San Francisco in particular represent one of the most interesting focal points of cultural diversity and economic dynamics, and the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco constitutes a large encyclopaedic museum institution at the heart of this unparalleled development, in which I would like to take active part”, he explained.

“To leave Frankfurt after more than fifteen years is a difficult decision for myself and my family,” he said. “Even if I’m afraid it can’t possibly as wonderful as this anywhere else, the time really was ripe for me to take new step and face a new challenge.”

Hollein’s appointment comes at the heels of a financial scandal at the FAMSF. Last fall, California state officials began looking into a complaint filed against philanthropist and board president of San Francisco’s de Young museum, Dede Wilsey, over a $450,000 payment to a museum staffer.

The chaos ensued as chief financial officer Michele Gutierrez, who launched the complaint, was laid off shortly thereafter.

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