Carnegie Museum of Art Director to Retire at Year's End

By Shaw, Kurt | Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, June 6, 2008 | Go to article overview

Carnegie Museum of Art Director to Retire at Year's End


Shaw, Kurt, Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review


Richard Armstrong, director of the Carnegie Museum of Art, plans to retire from the museum at the end of the year.

The Henry J. Heinz II director of the art museum since 1996, Armstrong oversees a core staff of 60, including five curatorial departments. He came to the Carnegie in 1992 as curator responsible for organizing the 1995 Carnegie International.

"I don't know what I'm going to do," said Armstrong, 59. "Most likely I will move to New York. That's my general plan."

Armstrong said "a number of imperatives" led to his decision to retire.

"One of them would be the institution's preparedness for the next show. But really the principal imperative was my own realization that the institution would benefit from a different set of eyes. I've loved every minute of it, but the institute could really benefit, I think, now from another kind of leadership," he said.

Armstrong said a search committee for his successor should be assembled by the summer.

William E. Hunt, chairman of the museum's board, said he is "disappointed to the extreme" that Armstrong will leave, but that sentiment is "matched totally with appreciation with the good job he has done."

Noted Pittsburgh artist and art critic Harry Schwalb said Armstrong added to the museum in "subtle ways," likening his tenure to that of former Carnegie Department of Fine Arts Director Gordon Bailey Washburn (1950-1962), who introduced abstract art to Pittsburgh through the Carnegie Internationals.

"Richard did much of the same thing, but in a quieter, less obvious way. He steered us toward contemporary things," said Schwalb. He credits Armstrong with bringing attention to the work of Colombian artist Doris Salcedo, whose work was featured in the 1995 Carnegie International. "Thanks to Richard's explication, and his enthusiasm, we have Salcedo in our permanent collection."

Hunt and board member Lea Simonds commended Armstrong on his ability to work with staff, management, artists and peers at other sites.

"He did a good job as director in every way," Simonds said. "He cared for and understood Pittsburgh very well and was good at working with all his constituencies: the public, the board, the artists."

Hunt praised Armstrong for "hiring and retaining" curators and educators at the museum.

Armstrong has been instrumental in bolstering the museum's contemporary holdings. A more than $2 million annual self- generating acquisitions fund has helped add hundreds of objects, many acquired from the 1995, 1999, 2004 and 2008 Carnegie Internationals and the unprecedented exhibition "Aluminum by Design."

Armstrong's strongest area is contemporary art, Hunt said, but he bridges all areas.

Armstrong encourages collaborative collecting strategies. For example, the museum jointly purchased British artist Rachel Whiteread's large-scale sculptural installation "Untitled (Domestic)" (2002) with Buffalo's Albright Knox Museum in 2006.

He helped catalyze a large gift of contemporary glass from the Maxine and William Block Collection in 2002, which is the foundation for a rapidly growing glass collection. …

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