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Guggenheim Anoints Armstrong; Peter Lewis Jabs Tom Krens UPDATED

Waiting to speak at yesterday’s Guggenheim ribbon-cutting ceremoney, left to right: Tom Krens, Peter Lewis, Mayor Bloomberg, Jennifer Blei Stockman (Guggenheim board president)

Both parts of the above headline are akin to “Dog Bites Man”: They are so expected as to be hardly news at all.

But for the record, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation has just made the expected official announcement: Its board voted to appoint Richard Armstrong as its next director, effective Nov. 4. That means he’ll be leaving his directorship of the Carnegie Museum of Art somewhat before the end of this year, as had been announced by the Pittsburgh museum in June. Armstrong is going to be charged with “creating a global strategic plan” which, from the press release, appears to have a lot to do with fundraising.

Speaking of “global strategic plans” (and before I relate to you the latest round in the Lewis-Krens dogfight), let me tell you something you DIDN’T know: While sipping champagne at the Guggenheim restoration’s ribbon-cutting reception last night, I chatted with the official who has long been charged with overseeing possible expansions of the Global Guggenheim’s reach—Juan Ignacio Vidarte, director of the Guggenheim Bilbao. I asked him if the proposed Guggenheim Hermitage in Vilnius, Lithuania, is actually going to happen.

He told me that the Guggenheim-conducted feasibility study had been concluded, but that it was highly unlikely the foundation would participate as a partner in any new cultural institution there. For one thing, Vidarte said, his own museum in Bilbao was supposed to have Guggenheim-branded exclusivity (other than the preexisting Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice) in Europe. [See CLARIFICATION, below.] One wonders, then, why the foundation would have encouraged the Lithuanians to commission (and pay for) a feasibility study for a Guggenheim-branded museum unlikely to be realized.

Let’s avert our eyes from that and go to the podium at Monday night’s restoration celebration, where the Guggenheim made the mistake of having Tom Krens, the foundation’s outgoing director, introduce Peter Lewis, the lead donor for the $28-million restoration, who famously quit the museum’s board over his disagreements with Krens’ museum management.

Krens offered a gracious introduction of Lewis, describing their previously close relationship and adding:

Peter was my friend then. He is my friend now….He’s somebody I admire a great deal. It’s my pleasure to introduce to you tonight the greatest donor in the history of the Guggenheim.

Whereupon Lewis, a loose cannon with a low tolerance for B-S, ascended the podium. Rather than quote him, I’ll let you click the left arrow below. He’ll speak for himself:

Not a word about Krens, who had guided the restoration from the beginning. When he finished his brief comments, Lewis walked right past Krens to shake hands with Marc Steglitz, the Guggenheim’s chief operating officer, who also assumed the role of acting director of the New York museum when Lisa Dennison decamped for Sotheby’s.

Maybe Richard Armstrong will want to try to mend relations with the deep-pocketed, loose-tongued Lewis.

Maybe not.

UPDATE: The Carnegie Museum has already announced that its acting directors, effective Nov. 3, will be its chief curator, Louise Lippincott, and its deputy director, Maureen Rolla.

CLARIFICATION: In my original posting, I neglected to mention
the Guggenheim’s other European outpost, the Deutsche Guggenheim—a modest space on the ground floor of the
Deutsche Bank building in Berlin, which is more a museum-affiliated
corporate gallery than a full-fledged museum.

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