Two Years After Beatrix Ruf’s Controversial Departure, the Stedelijk Museum Has Appointed Rein Wolfs as Its New Director

The Dutch curator joins the institution from the Bundekunsthalle in Bonn.

Rein Wolfs, director of the Bundeskunsthalle and soon to be director of the Stedelijk Museum. Photo by Henning Kaiser/picture alliance via Getty Images.

The board of the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam has named Rein Wolfs as its new director. He is tasked with getting one of Europe’s most important modern and contemporary art museums back on track after its illustrious former director was forced to step down.

Wolfs’s appointment comes a year and a half after the leading German curator Beatrix Ruf resigned amid accusations of a conflicts of interest, which she emphatically denied.

The 58-year-old Dutch curator and art historian who succeeds Ruf is the director of the Bundekunsthalle in Bonn. “We are delighted that Rein will be joining the Stedelijk,” Truze Lodder, the chair of the museum’s supervisory board, said in a statement. Lodder emphasized Wolfs’s appreciation of the need for public-private financing that is “independent of outside interests.” She also stressed that he is committed to increasing inclusion and diversity in the museum.

“As a director, he embodies the qualities the Stedelijk Museum seeks: a deep knowledge of art and, in a broad sense, administrative experience, international charisma, a worldwide network, excellent relationships with artists, an exciting artistic vision, and openness to ideas from staff and collaborative partners.”

“I grew up with the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam and I hope to provide the guidance and support needed to lead this museum, with its revolutionary history and fantastic collection, into the future,” Wolfs said in a statement. “The Stedelijk is a bold public institute that can become even more diverse, human, and international, and play a vital role in social debate,” he said.

Wolfs is due to start work at the Stedelijk from December 1, although he will be advising on key policy positions and appointments before then.

Jan Willem Sieburgh has been the Stedelijk’s acting director after Ruf’s abrupt departure in November 2017. Ruf was controversially pushed out of the museum after Dutch media reports questioned her impartiality in making museum acquisitions, accusing her of having a “conflict of interest,” and continuing to advise private collectors during her tenure at the museum. An inquiry into the allegations by Amsterdam City Council cleared the former museum director of any wrongdoing, and the Stedelijk issued a statement exonerating her.

Ruf did not resume her position at the museum, however, and three board members resigned after the news that the former director had been cleared. They said it was to let the museum “start afresh.” 

Wolfs has led the Bonn exhibition space since 2013, where he has played an important role in transforming the struggling institution. Notably, he was a co-curator of the museum’s exhibition of the Gurlitt trove, a vast hoard that includes Nazi-confiscated so-called “degenerate art.” The exhibition was a partnership with the Kunstmuseum Bern in Switzerland where Cornelius Gurlitt bequeathed his controversial collection. 

Before taking up the role in Bonn, Wolfs worked variously in senior positions at Kassel’s Museum Fridericianum, Rotterdam’s Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, and Zürich’s Migros Museum of Contemporary Art. He has previously collaborated with the Stedelijk on a Malevich exhibition. 

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