Richard Armstrong, who has led New York’s storied Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum for nearly 14 years, said in an interview with the Financial Times that he would be leaving his post “some time next spring.”
“It’ll be almost 15 years by then and that’s a long time,” he said in the interview. “The board is rejuvenated, and active — it’s a good moment.”
Armstrong did not give a reason for his departure. The move will bring an end to his longstanding run as director of the Guggenheim, which he has led since November 2008, during which time both growth and controversy have made their mark on his tenure.
Armstrong has led the museum and its foundation, as well as the museum’s international satellites, since stepping into the director role amid a global financial crisis. He intends to work with the board to find a replacement until he retires in 2023, according to a Guggenheim press release.
“I need to take my hat off to the board — the museums’ success is truly a confluence of their concern and their generosity — they are donors not only of money, but of time, art, critique, engagement,” Armstrong said in the interview. “Without them private institutions like this one face a very rocky future.”
The Guggenheim’s endowment has more than doubled under Armstrong’s leadership, according to the institution. His tenure has “expanded global initiatives to broaden the geographical scope of the museum's collection and activities,” a release from the Guggenheim reads in part.
“As leader of the institution, he consolidated the Guggenheim’s global expansion with a thoughtful, experimental, and artist-centered approach,” the release continues.
Major shows during Armstrong's tenure included illuminating surveys devoted to Agnes Martin, Maurizio Cattelan, On Kawara and Hilma af Klint — the last proving to be the museum's most-visited show ever, and one that spurred a 34 percent increase in museum memberships.
Even so, the Guggenheim has waded into controversy in recent years. An anonymous band of curators in 2020 sent a letter to the musuem’s leadership, including Armstrong, to decry “an inequitable work environment that enables racism, white supremacy, and other discriminatory practices.”
The letter came shortly after protests erupted around the United States following a police officer’s murder of George Floyd, a Black man whose death prompted an outcry for racial justice and calls for reform to policing and other institutions.
The museum responded with a diversity, equity, access and inclusion plan, which among other things sought to strengthen the process for reporting claims of discrimination.
In another development, different groups of Guggenheim employees moved to unionize on Armstrong's watch — one in 2019, another in 2021 — with the institution ultimately releasing a statement last year saying it “recognizes the right of its employees to enter collective bargaining.”
In a statement accompanying the Guggenheim’s release on Friday, Armstrong said he was “proud of what we have accomplished” — namely, “caring for the staff, embracing principles around DEAI and sustainability, defining our brand for the future, and coming through the pandemic with financial health.”
As for what’s next, Armstrong told the FT he would “stay involved with art” following his departure.
“I don’t have any other vocabulary,” he said.