MoMA Has Changed Its Longstanding Retirement Policy to Keep Glenn Lowry as Director Through 2025

Lowry is set to become the museum's longest-serving director.

Museum of Modern Art Director Glenn D. Lowry. Photo: Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images for WSJ.

The Museum of Modern Art‘s board has agreed to a seven-year contract extension to keep director Glenn Lowry at the helm of the museum through 2025. The move will make Lowry the longest-running director in the institution’s history.

“This assures outstanding leadership through our transformative expansion and beyond,” wrote board chairman Leon Black and president Ronnie Heyman in an internal email to MoMA staffers. “Glenn’s gifted and innovative leadership is essential to MoMA’s evolution,” Black told the New York Times.

The museum had to lift a long-standing policy mandating that senior staff retire at age 65. Lowry is 64. The guideline “doesn’t offer enough flexibility to strategically recruit and retain a talented and experienced work force,” a MoMA spokesperson told the Times, adding that the board feels strongly that “there is no better leader with whom we can expand upon MoMA’s success.”

It’s not hard to see why MoMA changed its rules to keep the scholar of Islamic art on board. The former director of the Art Gallery of Ontario, Lowry was just 40 when he was appointed to the museum in 1995. Over the course of his tenure, he quadrupled the museum’s endowment to just under $1 billion. He also oversaw a significant expansion of the scope and diversity of MoMA’s collection, and boosted its attendance. In 1999, he merged MoMA with the Queens-based emerging art center PS1 to successfully expand its outlook and reach. He also presided over two expansions, first in 2004, and another ongoing project that will debut to the public next year.

Despite his fundraising skills and management expertise, Lowry has faced condemnation for his hard-line stance against staff demands for increased wages and benefits. Critics have often emphasized Lowry’s own $2.2 million salary, which makes him one of the highest-paid cultural executives in the world.

The move ends long-running speculation about who would replace Lowry at the end of his term. Among the names floated were Studio Museum in Harlem director Thelma Golden, MoMA editorial content director Leah Dickerman, and Rauschenberg Foundation director Kathy Halbreich.

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