Uffizi Gallery Director Eike Schmidt Makes Speedy Exit to Lead Vienna’s Kunsthistorisches Museum

He was the first non-Italian to run the prestigious museum, and his sudden departure was met with criticism.

Eike Schmidt, director of Uffzi Gallery, poses in front of The birth of Venus (circa mid 1480s) by Sandro Botticelli during a press preview for the reopening of the rooms dedicated to Pollaiolo and Botticelli, at the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, on October 17, 2016. Photo Alberto Pizzoli/AFP/Getty Images.
Eike Schmidt, director of Uffzi Gallery, poses in front of The birth of Venus (circa mid 1480s) by Sandro Botticelli during a press preview for the reopening of the rooms dedicated to Pollaiolo and Botticelli, at the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, on October 17, 2016. Photo Alberto Pizzoli/AFP/Getty Images.

The German art historian Eike Schmidt, who has been at the helm of the Uffizi Gallery in Florence since 2015, has announced that he will be leaving his post in the second half of 2019 to take up the leadership of Vienna’s Kunsthistorisches Museum, starting in 2020.

The first non-Italian to head the Uffizi, Schmidt will leave at the end of his four-year tenure, not entering a second mandate as many had expected he would. The 49-year-old director was initially appointed as part of the Italian government’s sweeping overhaul of the leadership positions in Italy’s leading cultural institutions under culture minister Dario Franceschini.

At the Uffizi, Schmidt set out to improve the museum experience and increase revenue by holding music and film nights during off-peak hours, renting out spaces to fashion houses, and other novel initiatives. He renovated galleries, cut the queues, changed the ticket-pricing system, and reorganized the museum’s curatorial structure. As a staunch advocate of digitalization, he also successfully launched the Uffizi’s first Twitter and Instagram accounts.

“I’ve been able to do a lot so far, much more than I would have dared to imagine,” Schmidt told the German Press Agency dpa. “I think that at the end of my time in Florence, the museum will by run itself.”

However, Italians, including Florence mayor Dario Nardella, sharply criticized his precipitous departure. “It’s as if a trainer for an important soccer team would say right at the beginning that he would be moving on to another team later,” Nardella told dpa, and urged the Italian ministry of culture to promptly begin the search for a successor.

Schmidt is expected to bring a similar revitalization to the Viennese museum, considered one of the most important institutions in the world, with paintings by masters such as Albrecht Dürer, Titian, and Peter Paul Rubens in its holdings. He will be succeeding Sabine Haag, who has managed the museum since 2009, and he has already announced his plans to enhance the museum’s digital presence.

“It is ironic that the same politicians who criticized the fact that foreigners were being hired as museum directors are also the ones who now criticize my leaving,” Schmidt told artnet News, while emphasizing that he is not terminating his tenure prematurely.

He also stressed that in the two years still ahead, all of the updates to the museum’s structure as well as the programming through 2020 will be rolled out according to plan.


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