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Mariët Westermann has been appointed as director and chief executive of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and Foundation by the institution’s board of trustees. She is the first woman to hold the position and succeeds Richard Armstrong, who announced his departure in summer 2022.

Westermann will oversee the institution’s flagship location in New York alongside the Peggy Guggenheim Collection and Foundation in Venice, while providing collaborative leadership to the directors of the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao and forthcoming outpost in Abu Dhabi (like that in Bilbao, designed by Frank Gehry), which was initially due to open in 2012. Westermann, who has been the vice chancellor of New York University’s Abu Dhabi campus since 2019 and served as its founding provost from 2007 to 2010, will bring her art historical expertise and track record of philanthropic work in the humanities to her new role.

Westermann’s contributions to the NYU Abu Dhabi project run the gamut from helping the school reach its full undergraduate scale to recruiting the university’s first Nobel Laureate professor, Wole Soyinka, as well as developing new programmes, including an MFA in visual art and media and a future MBA offered with NYU’s Stern School of Business. She holds a PhD and masters degree from NYU’s Institute of the Arts, with a concentration on art from the Netherlands.

“I know the clarity of her thinking, the care she has for art and artists, and her commitment to the field,” Glenn D. Lowry, the director of the Museum of Modern Art in New York, told The New York Times. “I think she’ll make an outstanding colleague.”

While the Guggenheim’s choice to replace Armstrong, who left the post after 14 years in the role, with Westermann, who is not a professional museum director and did not initially appear on the museum’s list of candidates, is unexpected, her experience as executive vice president of the Andrew Mellon Foundation, director of NYU’s Institute of Fine Arts and associate director of research at the Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, Massachusetts, speak to her culture sector qualifications. Westermann will take up her new position on 1 June 2024, moving to Manhattan in the process.

“I am confident Dr. Westermann will ably uphold the institution’s founding vision while leading our constellation of museums to a more sustainable future, redefining the Guggenheim’s role in public discourse and opening our doors—whether physical or virtual—to an ever-broader audience,” Wendy Fisher, president of the Guggenheim Foundation’s board of trustees, said in a statement.

Westermann arrives at the Guggenheim during a tumultuous period at its Manhattan museum, following lengthy contract negotiations with the new union representing many workers there, the controversial departure of its chief curator and public claims of racism and discrimination within the organisation. The Guggenheim Abu Dhabi has also been the subject of protest over the conditions for migrant workers in the region’s construction industry. It is now expected to open in 2026.

“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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