Leading German museum director, Max Hollein, heads to San Francisco

New director of Fine Arts Museums brings experience of running three Frankfurt institutions

The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, one of the largest art institutions in California, has chosen Max Hollein as its new director. The appointment of the Austrian-born, Germany-based director—who has experience at US art museums, having worked in New York’s Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum earlier in his career—was announced late yesterday, 22 March.

Hollein will replace Colin Bailey as head of the M. H. de Young Memorial Museum in Golden Gate Park and the Legion of Honor in Lincoln Park. The twin-venue institution has been on the hunt for a new director since Bailey was appointed to lead the Morgan Library and Museum in New York last April. Hollein will take up the post from 1 June.

Hollein has experience running multiple venues at once. Since 2006, he has been the director of the Schirn Kunsthalle, the Städel Museum and the Liebieghaus Sculpture Collection in Frankfurt. (He could often be spotted riding his bicycle between them.) During his tenure, the director-curator oversaw numerous exhibitions, including blockbuster shows ranging from Germany’s first monographic show of work by Sandro Botticelli in 2009-10 to a presentation of work by Jeff Koons in 2012. Other exhibitions shed new light on overlooked aspects of Modern art, including visionary artists and female artists working in Berlin in the 1920s. More than 2,800 works of art were added to the museums' collections under his leadership.

“Besides an emphasis on high-level programming, significant collection building and audience development, further engagement of our public—and an even wider definition of who that is—will be a primary task,” Hollein said in a statement. “More and more museums, especially encyclopedic ones, do not exist as solely a place to visit, but also as a center of cultural education, complex narration and contemporary discourse.”

Hollein, who began his career at the Guggenheim, oversaw a €50m expansion of the Städel in 2012 that doubled the institution’s gallery space and added a new wing dedicated to art since 1945. He has also pioneered new digital initiatives—an area of expertise that may endear him to San Francisco’s tech community. Hollein worked with the Hochschule Darmstadt, a university of applied science, and Software AG to develop the cloud-based platform that would allow users to “stroll” through the museum’s collection.

The Fine Arts Museums have had a turbulent six months. The California state attorney general’s office launched an inquiry into the institution late last year after reports surfaced alleging that its board president Daine Wilsey paid $450,000 to a former staff member without consulting the rest of the board. Wilsey has maintained that she had the authority to distribute the funds and that the attorney general’s office regularly conducts audits of non-profit organisations.