In a surprise announcement today, Terence Riley resigned as director of the Miami Art Museum, three-and-a-half years into his tenure. The announcement was particularly unexpected as little had been heard about progress on the museum’s new Herzog & de Meuron–designed home until last Thursday, when the completed canopy-on-a-platform scheme was unveiled.
It was almost as if Riley were putting a personal seal of agreement on New York Times architecture critic Nicolai Ouroussoff’s editorial essay over the weekend declaring that “an American Architectural Epoch” was over and that the age of ambitious art museums was exhausted. “He hit the nail on the head,” said Riley in a telephone conversation with AN. “The current funding cycle will make projects of that ambitious scale difficult.”
But, he added, hard economic times and museum glut had nothing to do with his own decision to leave, which was made two weeks ago when the finances (namely a $100 million voter-approved county bond), design, and approval pieces had all fallen neatly in place for the Miami project. “I realized I can leave now or in four years,” he said. “There’s no other choice.” Riley will continue as a consultant for the museum, and remain based in Miami.
Aaron Podhurst, chairman of the museum's board, had nothing but happy thoughts for his departing director: “On behalf of the board of trustees and the people of Miami, I’d like to thank Terry for placing the institution on a solid footing as it moves towards establishing its new home.” The museum, which will break ground this spring, is scheduled to open in 2013.
Now 54, Riley said he is eager to return to his architecture practice, Keenen/Riley, founded with John Keenen 25 years ago. The firm (see Studio Visit, AN 02_02.06.2008) currently has work in Mexico, China, Sagaponac, and Mola, Spain. “I have been AWOL from the office for 18 years, which I never intended,” he said, recalling an anecdote from Nicholas Serota wherein the director of the Tate Museum in London warned a group of fellow directors, “If you want to do exhibitions, never do an expansion; and if you do an expansion forget about writing, curating, or anything else while you’re doing it.”
Asked whom he thought would make the ideal candidate for his job, Riley said, “They asked, and I told them that they need an art historian—perhaps with a contemporary art background—who will know what’s necessary to make a nice building into a great museum.” And he added, “I think of it as a gift of a job, freely given.”