Source: The New York Times (www.nytimes.com), by CAROL VOGEL
Lisa Dennison, a 29-year veteran of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum who became its director less than two years ago, said yesterday that she had resigned to join Sotheby’s auction house, where she will focus on international business development.
She informed the museum’s board and some top staff members of her decision yesterday.
In a telephone interview Ms. Dennison, 54, said she felt that it was time for a shift in course. “I’ve been at the Guggenheim almost my entire life,” she said. “And this is the moment where if I’m going to make a change I should do it now.”
She is not the first museum director to join Sotheby’s. Over the years it has hired Richard E. Oldenburg, the former director of the Museum of Modern Art, and Charles S. Moffett, a director of the Phillips Collection in Washington, among others. Their connections to rich collectors and knowledge of art can make them highly desirable as business-getters for an auction house.
“It seemed like a natural,” said Bill Ruprecht, the auction house’s chief executive, to whom Ms. Dennison will report. “We’ve been working a lot with the Guggenheim recently and have gotten to know Lisa. She’s great with clients.”
Sotheby’s has been quietly reorganizing its staff over the last few months so that it can better compete with its archrival, Christie’s, which has outpaced it in sales for some two years now. Sotheby’s has been lagging particularly in sales of postwar and contemporary art, the most overheated segment of the art market and an area in which Ms. Dennison has special expertise.
Ms. Dennison first worked for the Guggenheim as a summer intern in 1973, while she was a student at Wellesley College. She joined the museum in 1978 and over the years advanced through the hierarchy, serving as exhibition coordinator, assistant curator and deputy director and chief curator before she became director in October 2005.
Before she was named director, Ms. Dennison had been approached by institutions like the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the Cleveland Museum of Art about their director positions.
At the Guggenheim she has overseen a staff of 200 as well as exhibitions and fund-raising. She organized 35 shows overall during her tenure, including a 1999 retrospective of the work of Francesco Clemente, a major installation of Daniel Buren in the museum’s legendary atrium in 2005 and a traveling exhibition in 1990 of 125 works from the Guggenheim’s collection.
When she took over as director in 2005, she replaced Thomas Krens, who had held the job for 17 years while also serving as director of the Guggenheim Foundation, which oversees the Guggenheim satellite museums in Venice; Bilbao, Spain; Berlin; and Las Vegas as well as the New York flagship. She continued to report to him in his role as foundation director.
At the time her promotion was seen as addressing some of the criticism leveled at Mr. Krens, who was faulted for indulging his passion for globalization at the expense of the day-to-day responsibilities of running a museum.
Reached by telephone Mr. Krens called Ms. Dennison “his partner in building the Guggenheim,” adding: “We’ve worked together for 20 years. But the world is changing, and this is a wonderful opportunity for her.”
William Mack, the chairman of the Guggenheim’s board, said: “Lisa is someone who is much in demand. I know that from time to time she has been approached by a number of for-profit situations.”
Ms. Dennison is staying until the end of next month and will start her new post in September.
Asked whether the board would begin a search for a replacement or Mr. Krens would reassume the director’s job, Mr. Mack said, “We have a scheduled executive committee meeting to discuss this, among other things.”