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Daily Pilot

OCMA director to leave post

Szakacs will close out a 10-year run building the museum's collection and exhibition program at end of the year.

By Rhea Mahbubani

7:40 PM PDT, September 5, 2013

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Dennis Szakacs is bidding adieu to the Orange County Museum of Art after 10 years as director and chief executive.

He will vacate the position Dec. 31, Newport Beach-based OCMA announced in a press release Thursday.

Szakacs, who came on board in 2003, will remain as a consultant until mid-2014, according to the announcement.

OCMA has created a search committee and hired Heidrick & Struggles, a professional services firm, to assist in the search for new candidates.

"I've had a fantastic decade at the museum building OCMA's exhibition program to international prominence, strengthening the collection, increasing access to visual arts education and raising the support and visibility for modern and contemporary art in our community," he said in the release. "After achieving these goals, it's now time for me to explore new opportunities. I'll miss working with our exceptional staff and board, but leave with great confidence in the museum and look forward to collaborating with OCMA in the future."

He arrived at OCMA with an ambitious vision for the museum and he has fulfilled those goals, Kirsten Schmidt, director of marketing and communications, said in an email.

"He's now exploring new opportunities for himself," she added.

During Szakacs' tenure — the longest in OCMA's history — the annual budget increased from $2.5 million when he first started to about $5 million now. Also, the museum's $7 million endowment fund grew to $11 million.

Under his guidance, 15 OCMA-curated exhibitions traveled to 37 museums, including New Museum of Contemporary Art in New York, Vancouver Art Gallery, Ludwig Museum in Cologne, Germany, and the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago. Tony DeLap's outdoor sculpture, "Floating Lady" and Chris Burden's "Tale of Two Cities" were also restored.

Along with expanding OCMA's collection, Szakacs is also credited with overseeing the first retrospectives of abstract painter Mary Heilmann, figurative painter Peter Saul, and Los Angeles artist Richard Jackson, as well as thematic exhibitions like "Girls Night Out" in 2004, "Birth of the Cool: California Art, Design, and Culture at Midcentury" in 2008, and "State of Mind: New California Art Circa 1970" in 2012.

"The OCMA Board, staff and art community recognize and appreciate the contribution Dennis has made to elevating the stature and significance of OCMA and bringing us closer to our vision to 'build a destination museum that is locally relevant and internationally significant,'" OCMA board chair and President Craig Wells said in a statement.

"His artistic integrity, entrepreneurial thinking and public engagement have helped propel us to where we are today and set our direction for the next decade and beyond. This is an exciting time for OCMA and all of us here wish Dennis well in his next endeavor."