Above: Weisman Art Museum director Lyndel King. Photo: Rik Sferra.

Lyndel King, the “grandmother” of the Twin Cities art scene, is stepping down as director of the Weisman Art Museum after almost 40 years at the helm. King became director in 1981, just three years after she joined the staff, back when few women led museums. She will retire on June 30 in the midst of a pandemic and social unrest in the Twin Cities following the death of George Floyd.

King announced two years ago that she would be leaving in June 2020. In preparation for her departure, she raised $2.7 million, with some of that in estate gifts, toward creating a Weisman museum director endowment that will be named after her.

There is no current successor for the position. The University of Minnesota hit pause on a national search in late March after the museum closed due to COVID-19. Former U provost Karen Hanson has volunteered to serve as acting director until the national search can resume.

King said she doesn’t have an ideal successor, but did note that the next leader will have to address challenges in the museum field.

“For all arts organizations, financial sustainability will be a big thing coming up as well as diversity and equity issues,” she said. “They’re not different, but more intense challenges, let’s just say, now, than they were 40 years ago.”

King plans to stay in the Twin Cities. She is on several nonprofit boards nationally and around town, including at the Hill Museum & Manuscript Library at St. John’s University, which preserves ancient texts from locations such as Syria, Yemen, Iraq and Turkey. She is also working on a book about the growth of museums within university environments in the United States and Europe, and is contemplating making a short film about her “shoe fetish, which she first discovered while in Naples, Italy.

“The worst thing [about the pandemic] is that I won’t get to wear the fantastic shoes I bought for my party,” she said, describing the stylish shoes with a pink, fuzzy square for a heel created by architect Rem Koolhaas’ shoe company, United Nude.

Before King joined the Weisman, it did not really exist. For nearly 60 years the museum’s collection was housed in rooms on the fourth floor of the University’s Northrop Auditorium. King raised $18 million to build the Weisman’s shiny stainless-steel-and-brick home on the University of Minnesota’s East Bank campus. Opened in 1993, it was renowned architect Frank Gehry’s first major commission. Gehry collaborated with King again for an 8,100-square-foot expansion to the museum in 2011.

“One of the great experiences of my life was to work with Frank Gehry not once but twice,” King said. “In an oral history project, Gehry said, ‘If Lyndel wants to build a museum on Mars I’ll go with her.'”

Below: WAM Director Lyndel King in 1993. Photo: Mike Zerby, Minneapolis Star Tribune