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Guillaume Kientz, a Velázquez and El Greco expert and former curator at the Louvre in Paris, has been named director and chief executive of the Hispanic Society Museum & Library in New York, which boasts one of the world’s greatest collections of Spanish art and literature but has faced financial struggles and has been closed since 2017 for renovations.

“The Hispanic Society Museum & Library is on the cusp of transformation physically and intellectually,” Mr. Kientz said in an interview on Wednesday. “And now is the perfect time to rethink and rebuild the museum.”

Mr. Kientz succeeds Mitchell Codding, who retired on Sept. 30 after directing the organization for 25 years. Margaret Connors McQuade, the society’s assistant director and curator of decorative arts, had been serving as acting director.

The museum and reference library, which was founded in 1904 by the philanthropist Archer M. Huntington, has long struggled to raise its profile and better connect with its mainly Latino neighborhood in Washington Heights. Though the collection of roughly 750,000 paintings, manuscripts and other objects primarily celebrates art from Spain and Portugal and includes work by El Greco, Velázquez and Goya, the name suggests a connection to Latin America.

Mr. Kientz said that renaming the institution is “not on the table,” but he knows that outreach to local businesses and residents is important. “My first goal is connecting with the community, because otherwise it makes no sense to have a museum there,” he said.

The museum faced financial struggles even before the pandemic. In 2016, it asked a court to allow it to charge a fee for special exhibitions, despite its 1904 trust document stipulating that the museum must remain free to visitors. Construction had been slated to be completed by mid-2019, but the museum has not reopened, and Mr. Kientz said he was unsure when it would.

Mr. Kientz is currently the curator of European Art at the Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth, Texas. Before he began that position in 2019, he spent nine years as the curator of Spanish and Latin American Art at the Louvre, where he curated critically acclaimed exhibitions on Velázquez and El Greco at the Grand Palais. He was also co-curator of a 2013 exhibition that paired Mexican Viceregal painting with masterpieces from the Golden Age of Spanish painting.

Philippe de Montebello, the chairman of the Hispanic Society Museum & Library’s board who directed the Metropolitan Museum of Art for more than three decades, said in a statement that Mr. Kientz was “fully committed to giving new life to the institution.” He praised Mr. Kientz’s track record on diversity, noting that he led a 2016 populist movement in Paris “to reimagine museums in less traditional ways.”

Mr. Kientz will begin his new role in early 2021.



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