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Next! Search for New FAMSF Director Is On After The Met Poaches Max Hollein

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Max Hollein, now outgoing director of the Fine Art Museums of San Francisco. (Photo: Courtesy of Fine Art Museums of San Francisco)

Max Hollein has only been in the San Francisco Bay Area for two years, but in his short tenure as the head of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, he caught the eye of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, one of nation’s top museums.

This week, The Met officially poached Hollein as its new director.

“It’s something that you cannot turn down. It’s kind of a lifetime opportunity,” the 48 year-old from Austria told KQED.

The Met draws 7 million visitors annually across its three locations; Fine Arts’ annual attendance, between the de Young and the Legion of Honor, is close to 1.7 million. In San Francisco, Hollein manages an operating budget of $60 million and more than 500 employees; the Met has a budget of $305 million and a staff of 2,200.

Hollein’s move is well and good for the Met, but that leaves the agency that runs two of San Francisco’s top museums, the de Young and the Legion of Honor, in a bit of a lurch. Fine Arts has struggled with a revolving door of administrators over the last decade.


For his part, Hollein recommends the job he’s leaving.

“It’s an institution that’s on very stable ground. It’s fiscally responsible. The budget is balanced. It has great programming. The staff is energized. New top management. It’s a perfect situation for someone to enter into.”

Hollein leaves for New York in August, and says he’s game to help with the transition.

FAMSF trustees were told of Hollein’s appointment at their regular meeting Tuesday. Diane B. (Dede) Wilsey, president of the FAMSF board of trustees (and, full disclosure, a longtime donor to KQED Arts), says she’ll launch a committee similar in makeup to the one that conducted the 2015-16 search.

Hollein’s Tenure at FAMSF

Prior to coming to San Francisco, Hollein spent 15 years at several highly regarded arts institutions in Frankfurt: the Städel Museum, the Schirn Kunsthalle, and the Liebieghaus.

The 48-year-old says he meant to stay in San Francisco longer. “I obviously came to San Francisco with the clear idea that I will be here for longer. On the other hand, the two years have been very fulfilling. We got a lot of things done.”

Watch Hollein’s first press conference at the de Young Museum,  on the exhibition ‘Ed Ruscha and the Great American West,’ with curator Karin Breuer.

Hollein may be best known for bridging the worlds of art and tech. Over the past two years, Hollein championed initiatives like Digital Stories, multimedia build-outs online that provide a window into the museum’s exhibitions that viewers don’t have to pay for. The museum also created a Minecraft map of the pyramids in Teotihuacan, Mexico for its recent exhibition Teotihuacan: City of Water, City of Fire.

The de Young, which specializes in American art, also acquired 62 works by African-American artists last year from the Souls Grown Deep Foundation in Atlanta.

A replacement for Hollein has not yet been announced.

“This would be an opportunity for Fine Arts Museums to make a very bold and interesting choice about the future of the institution and who is in charge of it,” says KQED’s Visual Arts editor, Sarah Hotchkiss. Like others in the Bay Area art world, she suggests a woman and/or a person of color replace Hollein.

The de Young is a large enough institution that it could cast its net wide for recruits, as it did with Hollein, who came from Europe. But “it would be nice,” Hotchkiss adds, “to see someone who’s more familiar with the Bay Area.”

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