Sat, Jan 22, 2005 - Page 7 News List

Guggenheim chair resigns over museum's direction


The Guggenheim Museum in New York City has lost its chairman and chief benefactor in a row over the direction of the world-famous institution.

The stetson-wearing, yacht-owning billionaire Peter Lewis has resigned after having donated a total of US$77 million to the institution.

Lewis, who has been the Guggenheim's chairman since 1998 and a trustee since 1993, stood down on Wednesday evening after a three-hour board meeting.

He cited "differences in direction" between him and the museum's controversial director, Thomas Krens.

At the heart of the dispute lies Krens's ambition to expand the Guggenheim into a worldwide brand -- a strategy critics say has overstretched the institution's artistic and financial resources and has arguably led to the commercialization of a once deeply respected modern art collection.

Lewis told The New York Times that he felt the museum should "concentrate more on New York and less on being scattered all over the world."

According to a Guggenheim spokesman, Lewis had aired his concerns about the international expansion of the museum and about its management, and there was a discussion.

The board hoped he would stay but he decided to go.

Under Krens's leadership the Guggenheim has become a global brand.

When he took over in 1988 it had two bases: its Frank Llohry-designed museum in Bilbao, and an outpost in Berlin.

Meanwhile, the roll call of other cities that have been in talks with the Guggenheim about establishing a branch is almost endless.

Taichung was mooted, with a museum to be built by the British architect Zaha Hadid. Even Edinburgh made a pitch.

Krens is currently forging ahead with plans to establish a Guggenheim in Rio de Janeiro, with architecture by the French-born Jean Nouvel.

He is also undertaking a feasibility study for another in Guadalajara, Mexico.

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