After nearly 20 years, Thomas Krens, the provocative
director of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, is stepping down, its
board announced on Wednesday.
The move comes three years after Mr. Krens
triumphed in a him-or-me showdown with the foundation's biggest
benefactor, the Cleveland philanthropist Peter B. Lewis. Mr. Lewis
resigned after arguing that Mr. Krens was spending too much money and
should focus more on the foundation's New York flagship museum rather
than on funneling resources into developing Guggenheim satellites around
In a statement on Wednesday the foundation emphasized that Mr. Krens
would remain at the foundation as a senior adviser for international
affairs, overseeing the creation of a 452,000-square-foot museum in Abu
Dhabi to be designed by Frank Gehry.
In resigning as director Mr. Krens is clearly taking his cue from the
Guggenheim's board. "This is something that Tom and the board decided
together," Jennifer Stockman, the board's president, said. She
characterized Mr. Krens's new position as a "natural transition."
She added, "The museum is in a strong position to move on."
The foundation said that Mr. Krens would remain as director until a
successor was hired, and that the search would begin immediately. But it
added that the institution would revert to the management structure
that existed until 2005, appointing a director who would run the
Manhattan flagship and Guggenheim satellites.
In September 2005 the foundation promoted Lisa Dennison, then a deputy
director and chief curator, to director of the Manhattan museum. She
served less than two years, departing last summer to join Sotheby's
auction house as an executive. Curators and other museum directors have
been saying privately for months that the Guggenheim has been unable to
fill the crucial job of director of the New York museum. They said that
candidates who were informally approached were not shy about
communicating that they would not work under Mr. Krens, who is known as a
Supporters of Mr. Krens, however, say he has been disappointed with the
foundation's board, especially its shortage of particularly generous
donors. With no replacement for someone like Mr. Lewis, who gave the
Guggenheim about $77 million overall — nearly four times as much as any
other board member in its history — the Guggenheim may not have the
financial muscle to keep growing, some art-world insiders say.
Mr. Krens cast his job change in a positive light on Wednesday. "This is
a great move for everyone," he said in a telephone interview after
stepping off a flight from Paris to New York. "In July I will have been
at the Guggenheim for 20 years, and I like that round number."
A towering 6 foot 5, with an M.B.A. in management from Yale and a manner
that is often taken for arrogance, Mr. Krens, 61, has long been
synonymous with the Guggenheim. He is best known for his ambitions for
developing an international network extending from Las Vegas to Bilbao,
Spain, and for the types of high-profile exhibitions he presented,
including shows like "The Art of the Motorcycle," a personal passion,
and ones that tackled entire countries like China and Brazil.
He has also organized trend-setting shows of contemporary artists, among
them Matthew Barney, Richard Prince and, most recently, Cai Guo-Qiang.
Mr. Krens has drawn criticism for some of his programming choices,
including a show devoted to Armani suits underwritten by the fashion
The new director of the Guggenheim will face the task of balancing
growth with acquisitions for the permanent collection and organizing
high-profile exhibitions. In addition to overseeing the New York museum,
the director will have authority over the Peggy Guggenheim Collection
in Venice, the Guggenheim Bilbao, the Deutsche Guggenheim Berlin and the
Guggenheim Hermitage Museum in Las Vegas.
"The New York museum is the center of the entire constellation," Ms. Stockman said.
Although some critics argue that Mr. Krens has in effect turned the
Guggenheim into a McDonald's-like franchise at the expense of expanding
its collections and endowment, he has actually created a model for
expansion that is being copied by institutions around the world,
including the Tate in Britain and the Louvre in France. The
titanium-clad Guggenheim Bilbao, designed by Mr. Gehry, is viewed as a
major success, attracting more than a million visitors every year since
it opened in 1997.
During his tenure Mr. Krens has increased the Guggenheim's endowment to
$118 million from $20 million, although he has been known to dip into
the endowment to cover operating costs. (The museum's endowment dropped
by 20 percent from 1998 to 2005, when it was $45 million, which drew
harsh criticism from Mr. Lewis.)
In 1989 Mr. Krens negotiated a gift of Impressionist paintings from the
widow of Justin K. Thannhauser, acquired the Panza di Biumo collection
of Minimalist art and oversaw the commissions of major artworks by Jeff
Koons, James Rosenquist, Rachel Whiteread and Gerhard Richter at
Deutsche Guggenheim Berlin. These works later became part of the
In Bilbao Mr. Krens led an acquisitions program that has included major
installations of works by Richard Serra, Mr. Koons, Jenny Holzer and
Louise Bourgeois. He also has doubled the size of the Peggy Guggenheim
Collection and partnered with the State Hermitage Museum in St.
Petersburg, Russia, and the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna on
Twice Mr. Krens has overseen the restoration and expansion of its
landmark Frank Lloyd Wright building on Fifth Avenue. The first,
completed in 1992, was an $80 million restoration of the building's
interior, along with the construction of a 10-story tower gallery and
office building designed by Gwathmey Siegel & Associates.
The second, a $29 million restoration of the Wright building, is to be completed this summer.
Mr. Krens said Wednesday that the proposed Guggenheim in Abu Dhabi,
capital of the United Arab Emitates, was his most ambitious project to
"It's 35 percent larger than Bilbao," he said, adding that the new
museum's programming would be more ambitious, too, and that a staff of
about a dozen people would be dedicated exclusively to the Abu Dhabi
"It will be truly global," he said, "representing art from the Middle
East, Russia, Eastern Europe, Asia, Africa, as well as Europe and
America. It will change the model of the art museum."
by Carol Vogel
For The New York Times