Guggenheim Foundation names NYUAD’s Mariet Westermann as director and chief executive

Mariet Westermann is currently the vice chancellor of NYU Abu Dhabi. Photo: Solomon R Guggenheim Museum and Foundation

The Solomon R Guggenheim Museum and Foundation has announced a new director and chief executive.

Mariet Westermann, who is currently the vice chancellor of NYU Abu Dhabi, will become the first woman to hold the position when she officially takes responsibility in June. She will take over from Richard Armstrong, who has held the position of director since 2008. Armstrong announced his retirement in July last year.

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Westermann will be directing the foundation and its bellwether New York institution, as well as the Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice. She will also work closely with the directors of Guggenheim Museum Bilbao and the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi.

Westermann has overseen NYU Abu Dhabi as vice chancellor, chief executive and professor of Arts and Humanities since 2019. She has supervised the institution’s academic, administrative, financial and operational affairs. Westermann was also a founder of NYU Abu Dhabi in her capacity as provost, a position she held between 2007 and 2010.

In her statement, Westermann reflected on her approach to overseeing the development of NYU Abu Dhabi, touching upon how the experience will inform her strategies as director and chief executive of the Guggenheim.

“Building and leading NYU Abu Dhabi in this dynamic crossroads of the world, with such diverse, talented, and driven colleagues and students, has been extraordinarily inspiring. I will take much of what I learnt along the way to the Guggenheim Museum and Foundation: A unique institution with a beautiful mission dedicated to modern and contemporary art in four distinctive museums on three continents,” Westermann says of her new role.

“Each of the museums exists to create opportunities for anyone to engage with the transformative and connective power of art and artists, from New York to Bilbao to Venice to Abu Dhabi.”

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In her role as chief executive and director of the Guggenheim, Westermann will oversee the strategic direction of the institution’s network of museums and collections.

“We are thrilled to welcome Dr Westermann to the Guggenheim,” says J Tomilson Hill, chair of the Solomon R Guggenheim Foundation Board of Trustees. “We cast a very wide net and interviewed extensively to identify the right person for the Guggenheim at this time.”

The search process took six months, according to Hill, who says the board of trustees undertook a “values-based approach”, identifying the qualities necessary in a new director.

“We evaluated each candidate based on those attributes,” he says. “Dr Westermann 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.”

Wendy Fisher, president of the Solomon R Guggenheim Foundation Board of Trustees, said she was confident Westermann will lead the foundation to a more sustainable future and help open the institution’s doors to a wider audience.

“From Frank Lloyd Wright’s iconic building on Fifth Avenue, the Guggenheim has always sought to provoke new ways of thinking about and interacting with art, and Dr Westermann’s impressive background makes her uniquely qualified to do just that,” Fisher says.

“She brings to the table myriad accomplishments in art historical scholarship, the respect of her peers, experience serving as a leader of an international organisation and a fundamental belief in the transformative power of art. I look forward to working closely with her.”

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Westermann’s has previously served as executive vice president at the Mellon Foundation and as a faculty member and Director at NYU’s Institute of Fine Arts. She was associate director of Research and Academic Programs at the Clark Art Institute and a faculty member at Rutgers University.

Westermann is a graduate of Williams College and has received masters and PhD degrees in the History of Art from NYU’s Institute of Fine Arts. She has earned grants, fellowships and honours from the Centre for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts, Clark Art Institute, College Art Association, Metropolitan Museum of Art, National Endowment for the Humanities and American Philosophical Society.

Westermann is an expert in Dutch art and has led numerous projects in the field as an academic and curator. She has published books, articles and essays on Dutch art and artists, as well as studies on the future of higher education. She was the lead curator of the exhibition Art and Home: Dutch Interiors in the Age of Rembrandt, which was shown at the Denver Art Museum and The Newark Museum. She also wrote the catalogue of the exhibition, which was published in 2001.

In 2010, she co-hosted Art Museums Here and Now on behalf of the NYU Abu Dhabi Institute. The conference with Philippe de Montebello, former director of Metropolitan Museum of Art, addressed the necessity of building art museums in countries that have not yet got such institutions or reinventing them to cater for their public.

Westermann was among those who organised Reframing Museums in 2020. The international conference, held in partnership between NYU Abu Dhabi and Louvre Abu Dhabi, examined the future of museums.

Westermann also holds a position on the boards of Aliph Foundation (The International Alliance for the Protection of Heritage in Conflict Areas), the Educational Testing Service and the Rijksmuseum. She is the chair of the Scholar Rescue Fund of the Institute of International Education. Locally, she is a board member of AmCham Abu Dhabi and the US-UAE Business Council.

“I have been blessed with wonderful experiences as an art historian, global educator, curator, philanthropist and academic leader,” Westermann says. “The kind of complexity and high aspiration that have been so motivating to me in these prior roles has prepared me to help the Guggenheim realise its full potential as a constellation of museums united in one mission and grounded fully in their local environments and communities.”

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