After six years leading the Contemporary Austin, Louis Grachos, the museum’s executive director and CEO, will step down from his position.
Kathleen Loughlin, the museum’s board president, made the announcement today.
Grachos is to begin a new position in June as executive director and CEO of the Palm Springs Art Museum in California.
The Contemporary’s deputy director, Margie Rine, will act as interim director until new leadership is named.
“It is with a mix of sadness and gratitude that the Board of Trustees makes this announcement,” said Loughlin. “Louis’ eye for exciting contemporary art, along with his passion and curiosity about the artists of our time, is unrivaled. His impact on Austin and how the city experiences and views contemporary art will be remembered for years to come.”
Grachos is credited with creating the high profile of the Contemporary Austin today, responsible for bringing a large-scale Ai Weiwei sculpture to the shores of Ladybird Lake and guiding the creation of the Suzanne Deal Booth/FLAG Art Foundation Prize, a biennial $200,000 unrestricted award, one of the art world’s largest.
The museum also undertook and launched a master plan to restore its Laguna Gloria’s historic lakeside grounds, making the picturesque peninsula along Lake Austin more accessible and ecologically stable, and reinvigorating it as a sculpture garden for contemporary art.
And the museum completed a $3 million renovation of its downtown location at Congress Avenue and Seventh Street, adding a dramatic canopy roof to the architecturally distinctive Jones Center building as well as reconfiguring its inside gallery space.
“I’m so proud that we’ve moved Laguna Gloria and the Jones Center to where they are now,” Grachos said. “And with our strategic planning, the museum is at an inflection point, ready for a new stage and a new vision.”
“It felt like time to move on, and then an amazing opportunity came along that really piqued my interest.”
Grachos was appointed in mid-2012 and took the helm in Austin in 2013. He previously had been director of the Albright-Knox Gallery in Buffalo for 10 years, during which he was credited for expanding the contemporary art focus and bringing the museum fresh international attention.
At the time of Grachos’ appointment, the Contemporary was an identity-challenged institution. Awkwardly named AMOA-Arthouse it was a new entity, the result of a merger between Arthouse, a contemporary art center, and the Austin Museum of Art.
For years the Austin Museum of Art had tried — and failed — to build a downtown museum while also maintaining ownership of Laguna Gloria, a 12-acre lakeside museum site anchored by a 1916 historic villa. Arthouse, a non-collecting contemporary art institution, was left financially bruised after renovating its Congress Avenue building into an architecturally sleek art center.
As AMOA-Arthouse, though, the institution had more than $22 million in a new endowment, after AMOA sold the prime downtown lot it had been holding for years.
Within months of arriving in Austin, Grachos identified the potential of Laguna Gloria and its grounds as a contemporary sculpture garden, capturing a $9 million gift from the Betty and Edward Marcus Foundation to commission and acquire contemporary artworks. Now, sculpture by blue-chip artists including Ai Weiwei, Wangechi Mutu, Paul McCarthy and Liam Gillick dot the now-named Marcus Sculpture Park.
In a parallel effort, the museum adopted a comprehensive master plan for Laguna Gloria’s historic grounds, that included the recently opened Moody Pavilions, an entrance facility with a museum shop, café counter and restrooms. The facility is so named in recognition of a $3 million gift from the Moody Foundation who also donated $1.3 million for the Jones Center renovation.