Holly Hotchner will step down from her post as director of the Museum of Art and Design after 16 years, the institution announced today. She will officially leave her post on April 30, 2013. The museum gave no reason for her departure, but sources say it may have been less than amicable. Hotchner — regarded by industry insiders as a strong, determined personality — is best known for broadening the museum’s public appeal and overseeing its controversial move to 2 Columbus Circle in 2008.
The board of trustees will be commencing a search for a new director in the coming month. In the meantime, the museum has appointed David Gordon, formerly director of the Milwaukee Art Museum and Secretary of the Royal Academy of Arts in London, to serve as acting director and to start to take over the day-to-day management of the museum.
“To be able to build a new museum in this city, already so full with culture, and to develop such a dedicated and growing audience is more than I had ever dreamed,” Hotchner said in a statement. “On the occasion of the 5th anniversary of our new home, I feel that it would be best for the institution I have nurtured and love to build upon all that has been achieved and move forward into the future with new leadership.”
Hotchner’s tenure has been filled with substantial successes and equally as substantial controversies. During her years as director, she increased the museum’s endowment sixfold and grew the permanent collection to three times its original size, including expanding its jewelry holdings, a category about which she was particularly passionate. In 2002, the museum purchased a nine-story building at Columbus Circle for $17 million that would eventually become its permanent home.
The ride wasn’t always smooth. In changing her institution’s name from the American Craft Museum to the Museum of Art and Design, Hotchner set off a furor within the craft community, which felt the museum was abandoning its roots. Then, in 2008, the museum moved from its small offices across the street from the Museum of Modern Art to its landmarked building at 2 Columbus Circle, which offerred three times the exhibitions space. The $110 million renovation caused a firestorm within the architectural preservation community, with New Yorkers as storied as Tom Wolfe, Chuck Close, Frank Stella, Robert A.M. Stern, and Barry Bergdoll all advocating against the project.
Still, the move — which will likely live on as Hotchner’s major legacy — didn’t disappoint everyone. As the late critic Ada Louise Huxtable wrote in a December 2011 review, “This small building is an oasis of enchantment, a kind of Camelot on Columbus Circle. Its collections are instant eye candy (if the serious and erudite staff will forgive me), with magic in every imaginable material, leavened by irony and wit.”
— Julia Halperin