Stephanie Rosenthal, director of Berlin’s Gropius Bau, leaves to head long-delayed Guggenheim Abu Dhabi

Stephanie Rosenthal, the director of the Gropius Bau in Berlin, will leave the museum from September to lead the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi, the latest in a series of institutional changes in the German capital.

The highly anticipated United Arab Emirates Museum, designed by Frank Gehry, is still under construction, nearly 20 years after plans to build it were first announced. The museum, which will be the largest in the Guggenheim franchise, has been marred by construction delays and boycotts over unjust working conditions. It is now set to open in 2026.

Rosenthal will oversee the museum’s formidable collection of modern and contemporary art and lead a program focused on West Asia, North Africa and South Asia. The museum is a collaboration between Abu Dhabi’s Department of Culture and Tourism and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation.

News of Rosenthal’s appointment comes on the same day as the death of UAE President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, setting the oil-rich country on the move.

She will also leave Berlin at a time when the museum landscape has fundamentally changed. Following Rosenthal’s departure, four of Berlin’s top museums will have a new leader in January: Klaus Biesenbach at the Neue Nationalgalerie; curatorial duo Till Fellrath and Sam Bardouil at Hamburger Bahnhof, who both started their positions in January; and Bonaventure Soh Bejeng Ndikung at the helm of the Haus der Kulturen der Welt, from January 2023.

Artist Lee Bul and Gropius Bau director Stephanie Rosenthal. Photo: Mathias Voelzke.

“With the departure of Stephanie Rosenthal, the art scene of Gropius Bau and Berlin loses one of its figureheads,” said Claudia Roth, Germany’s culture minister. Rosenthal took the helm of the non-collecting institution in 2018 and converted the historic building into a major hub. During her tenure, she oversaw a blockbuster exhibition by Yayoi Kusama, as well as solo projects by Lee Bul, Wu Tsang, and Otobong Nkanga.

Rosenthal has restored the former arts and crafts museum, which housed studios and workshops before the outbreak of the Second World War, to a place of artistic production. The pioneering Berlin Program for Artists has run her studios outside the building for a time, and she also founded “In House: Artist in Residence”, which allowed Bul, Lee Mingwei and Dayanita Singh to work on-site.

“The decision to leave the Gropius Bau was a difficult one,” Rosenthal said in a statement. “I now look forward to the challenge and responsibility of building and shaping a museum with an outstanding collection in a dynamic and exciting part of the world.”

Abu Dhabi’s cultural sector has boomed in recent years, but has also been questioned by human rights and labor organizations who have documented poor working conditions in the country, most notably at the Saadiyat Island Museums, where the Guggenheim is being built. . built. There have been reports of exploitation of migrant workers from South Asia, whose employers confiscated their passports, withheld salaries and imposed inhumane 24-hour work hours.

Rosenthal previously worked for 10 years as Chief Curator of the Hayward Gallery in London. She has also curated at the Haus der Kunst in Munich and curated the 20th edition of the Sydney Biennale in 2016.

Her last show at the Gropius Bau, a group exhibition entitled “On Caring, Repairing, and Healing”, opens on September 16.

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