Cultural Comings and Goings: The Guggenheim’s New Director and More

Duygu Demir, Sheena Wagstaff and Karen Milbourne are among the insiders stepping into new roles.

From the appointment of Sheena Wagstaff as creative director of Frieze Masters to the resignation of the Alvin Ailey Dance Theater’s long-time head Robert Battle, here are some of the most notable role changes recently announced across the arts and culture spheres.

Mariët Westermann to become the Guggenheim’s new director

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Mariët Westermann will take on the position next summer. Courtesy NYU Abu Dhabi

Mariët Westermann, the current vice chancellor of NYU Abu Dhabi, is set to leave the liberal arts and research campus in June of 2024 when she steps up as director and CEO of the Guggenheim Museum and Foundation. Her appointment marks the first female director chosen to head the institution’s museum group, which consists of its flagship museum in New York City, the Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice, the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao in Spain and the upcoming Guggenheim Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

Westermann has led NYU Abu Dhabi (NYUAD) since 2019 and was provost at the institution when it was formed in 2007. During her tenure, the campus reached its full undergraduate scale, recruited dozens of faculty members and introduced new programs. Its first Climate Action Plan, which maps out a goal of carbon neutrality by 2050, is also credited to Westermann. She was previously executive Vice President at the Mellon Foundation, where she commissioned several studies on staff diversity in the museum sector, and a faculty member at both NYU’s Institute of Fine Arts and Rutgers.

In her new role, she will be responsible for directing the Foundation and the New York museum, in addition to acting as the head steward of the Foundation’s collections and its global outposts in Europe and Abu Dhabi. “It is a great honor to be joining the Guggenheim, a unique institution with a beautiful mission dedicated to modern and contemporary art in four distinctive museums on three continents,” said Westermann in a statement. She will replace Richard Armstrong, who retired as director of the museum group last year after a 14-year tenure.

Duygu Demir joins NYU Abu Dhabi as curator

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Duygu Demir will work as both a curator and research assistant professor. Wise.Monkeys.Productions-L.L.C

As NYUAD loses its vice chancellor, it will take on a new curator in the form of Duygu Demir. She joins the NYUAD Art Gallery as it prepares to celebrate its 10th anniversary in 2024.

A founding member of SALT, a cultural institution in Istanbul, the Turkish curator most recently worked as an assistant professor of art history at Sabancı University. Non-Western modernisms, transnational artistic experiences and the convergence of art and architecture are among her research topics. In addition to working on solo presentations of works by the likes of Deniz Aktas and Gözde İlkin, she in 2011 co-curated I Decided not to Save the World, a group exhibition viewed at institutions like SALT and the Tate Modern.

“Duygu Demir brings to this watershed moment in the UAE her very rare combination of scholarly training in non-Western modernism, and her commitment to cultural production through exhibitions and programs,” said Maya Allison, executive director of NYUAD Art Gallery, in a statement. Demir will oversee exhibitions and programs like “Curators Talk,” a new series of public talks where curators discuss their varying approaches to the practice. In addition to her position as curator, she will work at NYUAD as a research assistant professor of art history.

Frieze Masters hires Sheena Wagstaff as creative advisor

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Sheena Wagstaff has worked in the art world for three decades. Eileen Travell/The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

On the heels of its 2023 edition, Frieze Masters has announced Sheena Wagstaff as the fair’s new creative advisor. She will assume the position immediately, working closely with Frieze Fairs director Kristell Chadé and Frieze Masters director Nathan Clements-Gillespie.

Wagstaff isn’t new to Frieze Masters—she curated its inaugural “Studio” project this year, which showcased the workplaces and practices of various artists. As creative advisor, Wagstaff will be responsible for overseeing the fair’s curatorial framework and emphasizing its showing of both historical artifacts and contemporary artwork. “I look forward to expanding, with the brilliant Frieze team, the fair’s mission to align ancient with modern: to convey the vitality and urgency of creative history, and how international artists translate this for our global future,” she said in a statement.

The curator was formerly the chair of modern and contemporary art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Before leaving the museum in 2022, she was in charge of the Met Breuer program, oversaw 88 exhibitions and expanded the institution’s collection by 1,4000 objects. Her museum background also extends to the Tate Modern, where she worked as chief curator for 11 years and led both its exhibition programming and Turbine Hall commissions.

Robert Battle resigns as artistic director of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater

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Robert Battle will step down from the dance company after more than a decade. Jackie Molloy/The Washington Post via Getty Images

The Alvin Ailey Dance Theater, a New York City-based modern dance company, will be losing its artistic director. After leading the institution for the past dozen years, Robert Battle is resigning due to health-related reasons.

While Battle is stepping down effective immediately, he will remain available to the organization’s board of trustees throughout the remainder of 2023. In a statement, Battle noted that “the personal and professional bonds I’ve forged at Ailey working with the Company’s exceptional dancers and so many other great artists will always mean the world to me, But I know this is the right moment for me to move on and focus on my health.” In light of his resignation, the company’s associate artistic director Matthew Rushing will lead the dance group as the board of trustees searches for a new leader.

The director first became involved with Ailey in 1999, working as a choreographer and artist in residence. He was personally selected by former Ailey head Judith Jamison to lead the institution in 2011, making him the company’s third director in its 65-year history. During his tenure, he introduced Ailey’s New Directions Choreography Lab, aiming to develop emerging choreographers, and commissioned works from the likes of Kyle Abraham and Rennie Harris. Before joining Ailey, Battle danced with Parsons Dance from 1994 to 2001 and founded Battleworks Dance Company, which debuted in 2002.

Karen Milbourne to head the Fralin Museum of Art

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Karen Milbourne previously worked at the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art. Photo:Tristan Williams

Over at the University of Virginia, the school’s Fralin Museum of Art has found a new director in Karen Milbourne. Currently the senior curator at the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art, she will assume her new role in January 2024.

Milbourne has been at the Washington, D.C., museum for 15 years, where she has focused on the arts and pageantry of western Zambia and contemporary African art in addition to guiding the museum’s curation of its archives, collections and publications. Before joining the National Museum of African Art, she was the department head for the arts of Africa, the Americas, Asia and the Pacific Islands at the Baltimore Museum of Art.

In her new position, Milbourne will oversee 26 employees while leading the Fralin’s exhibitions, research and teaching missions. “In Karen Milbourne, we have the tremendous good fortune of recruiting a superb scholar and curator of great ambition and distinction, and whose expertise is well matched with the Fralin’s global art collection,” said Sarah Betzer, chair of the Fralin’s search committee, in a statement. Milbourne will replace the museum’s previous director Matthew McLendon, who left the institution in February following a six-year tenure.

Cultural Comings and Goings: The Guggenheim’s New Director and More