Guggenheim Museum Names the First Woman to Serve as Its Director and CEO
Mariët Westermann was tapped to replace Richard Armstrong, after an 'extensive' six-month search.
The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and Foundation have selected Mariët Westermann as its new director and chief executive, the culmination of an “extensive” six-month search. Westermann is the first woman to head the museum group, which includes the flagship institution in New York and the Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice. She will also work with the directors of the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao and the future Guggenheim Abu Dhabi, which is expected to open in 2026.
Westermann, 61, was tapped to replace Richard Armstrong, who retired last summer. Her selection was a surprise as she is not a professional museum director. She currently serves as the vice chancellor of NYU Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates and has a background leading higher education and charitable organizations.
“She brings a unique set of qualities and experiences to this critical role—a wide ranging world view, experience in navigating multiple stakeholders and critical issues across geographies, all rooted in a deeply held belief in scholarship, excellence, and the power of arts and culture to inspire and connect,” board chair Tom Hill said in an email announcing the change. Hill noted he has personally known Westermann for more than two decades and looks forward to working with her to implement a strategic plan to broaden the museum’s collection and expand its global initiatives.
Westermann will begin her new role on June 1, 2024. Until then, the museum is being led by three deputy directors: chief curator Naomi Beckwith, general counsel and secretary Sarah Austrian, and chief financial officer Marcy Withington. (Beckwith became the museum’s first Black chief curator in January 2021.)
“We are so happy to support the success of the museum as we usher in patrons and visitors,” Beckwith wrote in a follow-up email as she announced upcoming exhibits at the museum.
Westermann’s NYU biography notes her accomplishments in the arts and humanities, particularly as a scholar of Dutch art, beginning with her undergraduate degree from Williams College and her master’s and PhD degrees from NYU’s Institute of Fine Arts—which she later led.
Early in her career, she was on faculty at Rutgers University from 1995 to 2001 and served as an associate director of research at the Clark Art Institute before she joined NYU in 2002 as a member of the faculty and later director of the Institute of Fine Art.
She went on to serve as the first provost of NYU Abu Dhabi before serving as the executive vice president of the Mellon Foundation, returning to NYU in 2019.
Westermann will be taking the helm after a series of controversies in the last few years, including a letter from the “Curatorial Department” in 2020 that was highly critical of museum leadership for what it called the enabling of racism, white supremacy, and other discriminatory practices.”
In 2022, the museum caved to calls to drop the name of Purdue Pharma’s Sackler family, long criticized for its role in America’s opioid epidemic. And earlier this month, the museum temporarily closed its doors after pro-Palestine protesters dropped banners showing parents grieving over their dead children in Gaza amid the Israel-Hamas war.
“The demands on museum directors today are very complicated,” Westermann told The New York Times. “The skill set you need for a constellation like the Guggenheim is a challenge and opportunity that seems well mapped onto the kinds of experiences I’ve had.”
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