Artful Moves Frankfurt Museum Director Packs His Bags

Max Hollein of the Städel Museum is moving to California, joining a list of other high-profile figures to move to and from other cultural institutions in Europe and beyond.
One of Frankfurt's proudest exports heads west.

Frankfurt’s famous Städel Museum is losing its director, Max Hollein, to the Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco, to the dismay of art lovers in Germany.

Historians and curators seem to be Germany's latest export, as Mr. Hollein is just one in a series of high-profile figures to move to other institutions in Europe and beyond.

The Austrian art historian left his personal signature in the cultural scene of Germany’s financial capital with exhibitions highlighting artists including Dürer, Boticelli, Vermeer, Rembrandt, Monet and Picasso.

But the moves are working both ways, as Neil MacGregor, of Scotland, is preparing to be the first to lead the Humboldt Forum, Berlin's new cultural institution.

Apart from managing, refurbishing and expanding the Städel museum with investments totaling $69 million since 2006, Mr. Hollein was also responsible for the Schirn Kunsthalle exhibition hall over the past 15 years and, since 2006, for the Liebighaus sculpture collection as well.

Frankfurt’s mayor and chairman of Schirn Kunstalle’s supervisory board spoke of a great loss for the German cultural landscape. Mr. Hollein's replacement has not yet been hired and his performance will be hard to follow.

He’s credited with giving Frankfurt’s art museums a new appeal with his fresh management style and taste in exhibitions.


Quelle: dpa
Max Hollein has managed, refurbished and expanded Frankfurt's famous Städel Museum.
(Source: dpa)


Mr. Hollein begins his new job in California on June 1 at the Fine Arts Museum, one of the most popular in the United States, with 1.6 million visitors last year.

The father of three said it was a hard decision for him and his family to leave Frankfurt after more than 15 years:  “Although I am afraid that it could not be any better than here, it was time to take a next step into a new challenge.” This challenge includes overseeing some 128,000 artworks and 520 employees.

Like high-profile orchestra conductors, museum directors tend to move around internationally, and Mr. Hollein is no exception.

Before coming to Frankfurt, he trained in New York under legendary Guggenheim Foundation director Tom Krens, in addition to consulting for Russia’s State Hermitage in St. Petersburg, the Palais de Tokyo in Paris, the Istanbul Modern Museum, the Neue Galerie in New York and the National Gallery in Prague.

Mr. Hollein isn't the only museum director in Germany who is in demand right now.

Hartwig Fischer, of Dresden's Staatliche Museum, has just switched to the British Museum in London. His predecessor at Staatliche Museum, Martin Roth, left his post for London's Victoria and Albert Museum.

Italy is also profiting from German curators as Eike Schmidt moved to lead the Uffizi in Florence in 2015. Mr. Schmidt first earned his spurs in the United States, at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts and working as a curator at Washington's National Gallery and Los Angeles' Getty Museum.

But the moves are working both ways, as Neil MacGregor, of Scotland, is preparing to be the first to lead the Humboldt Forum, Berlin's new cultural institution.

And next year, Chris Dercon, currently director of London's Tate Modern gallery, will take the helm at Berlin's avant garde Volksbühne theater. Mr. Dercon has some experience in Germany, having previously led Munich's Haus der Kunst.


This article originally appeared in the newspaper Der Tagesspiegel. To contact the author: [email protected]