Adam Weinberg, the longtime director of New York’s Whitney Museum, will leave his post after 20 years at the helm, the museum announced in a statement Wednesday.
In the release, Weinberg announced that he would resign from the museum at the end of his contract on October 31, and he will be succeeded by Scott Rothkopf, who currently serves as senior deputy director and chief curator.
Weinberg will become the Whitney’s director emeritus. His next plans were not mentioned in the museum’s announcement.
“It has been the greatest joy and privilege of my life to lead the Whitney for all these years, working with its deeply committed and caring Trustees, its superb and mission-driven staff, and the inspiring and devoted community of artists, so that we could serve the people of New York and the world of contemporary art and ideas,” Weinberg said in a statement. “Even as I now step aside to take on new opportunities in the cultural community, as everyone knows, my heart will always be with the Whitney.”
His time at the Whitney extends all the way back to 1989, when he first took a position as director of a branch of the museum held at the Equitable Center, a Midtown Manhattan skyscraper, and has largely stayed with the museum, only briefly departing to serve as director of the American Center in Paris and the Addison Gallery of American Art in Andover, Massachusetts.
Weinberg steered the Whitney as it relocated from the Marcel Breuer–designed Madison Avenue space where it had been sited for many years to its current home in the Meatpacking District in 2015. The museum’s new building, which reportedly cost $422 million and was designed by Renzo Piano, was widely praised, with the New York Times‘s Michael Kimmelman writing, “There’s a generosity to the architecture, a sense of art connecting with the city and vice versa.”
The completion of that new building was likely among one of Weinberg’s major tasks when he was hired by the board. His predecessor, Maxwell Anderson, had resigned from the museum’s top role in 2003 after the board had abandoned a $200 million plan to expanded its iconic Breuer building on Madison Avenue, helmed by architect Rem Koolhaas.
The programming since the museum’s reopening has also been acclaimed for injecting new life into the institution. Since 2015, the museum has mounted key shows devoted to immersive video installations, Puerto Rican art after Hurricane Maria, and figurative painting, among others.
In recent years, the Whitney has unveiled a permanent installation by David Hammons nearby the museum and renovated Roy Lichtenstein’s studio, which it will use to permanently house the Independent Study Program.
One of the greatest controversies of Weinberg’s career came in 2018, when it emerged that Warren Kanders, the vice chair of the Whitney’s board, owned a company that produced the tear-gas canisters fired at migrants along the US-Mexico border. In the ensuing nine months, protests were regularly held in the museum’s lobby, and Whitney Biennial participants threatened to pull out. Ultimately, Kanders resigned.
Under Weinberg, workers at the Whitney unionized. On Tuesday, they reached a contract with museum management for the first time.
The Whitney said that, during Weinberg’s directorship, attendance tripled, from 400,000 annual visitors to 1.2 million in pre-pandemic years, and that the endowment had increased tenfold, from $40 million to $400 million.
Some 300 exhibitions at the museum were mounted between 2003 and 2023, as well as nine biennials—some of which provoked scandal.
Other controversies during Weinberg’s tenure stemmed from the museum’s acclaimed Whitney Biennial, which has long had a reputation for stirring up controversy. During the 2014 biennial, curated that year by Stuart Comer, Michelle Grabner, and Anthony Elms, the collective HowDoYouSayYaminAfrican? withdrew from the exhibition, citing the inclusion of a project by Joe Scanlan, a white artist whose contribution to the show was a series of paintings credited to Donelle Woolford, a fictitious Black woman artist.
At the time, Maureen Catbagan, a member of the collective, told Hyperallergic, “We felt that the representation of an established academic white man posing as a privileged African-American woman is problematic, even if he tries to hide it in an avatar’s mystique. It kind of negates our presence there, our collaborative identity as representing the African diaspora.”
The subsequent 2017 Whitney Biennial also stirred major controversy over the inclusion of a painting by Dana Schutz. Titled Open Casket, the work depicted Emmett Till, a Black boy who was lynched in Mississippi and whose face and body were badly mutilated. His mother, Mamie Till, had Emmett’s body in his coffin photographed and widely disseminated in publications like Jet to show how African Americans continued to face in the United States.
Artists like Hannah Black and Parker Bright took issue with Schutz, a white artist, depicting Emmett’s body. In an open letter, Black called for the painting’s removal from the exhibition and for its destruction. Bright staged a protest-performance in front of Schutz’s work, wearing a gray T-shirt with the words “Black Death Spectacle” written in all caps on the back. Christopher Y. Lew and Mia Locks, the curators of the 2017 biennial, said that they would keep the work on view, but added to its programming an event organized by poet Claudia Rankine, titled “Perspectives on Race and Representation.”
Rothkopf joined the Whitney as a curator in 2009, and quickly built up a reputation for working on key surveys for some of today’s most closely watched artists, including Glenn Ligon, Wade Guyton, Jeff Koons, Mary Heilmann, and Laura Owens. He was also a member of the team that organized the Whitney’s inaugural display in its new building in the Meatpacking District, “America Is Hard to See,” which opened in 2015.
That same year, Rothkopf was promoted to chief curator, taking over from the institution’s longtime curatorial head, Donna De Salvo. In 2018, Rothkopf also took on the role of senior deputy director. During his tenure as chief curator, Rothkopf greatly expanded the institution’s curatorial team, with key hires such as Rujeko Hockley, Marcela Guerrero, and Adrienne Edwards.
Prior to joining the Whitney, Rothkopf was a senior editor at Artforum and had served as a curator at the Harvard Art Museums in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Rothkopf said in a statement, “Since joining its unsurpassed staff, I’ve been devoted to the Whitney and everything it stands for: a profound commitment to artists; courage and openness to change; a deep care for audiences and community; and a warm and inclusive spirit. We’re extremely well poised for the next chapter, which promises to be more vital and relevant than ever.”