ST. PETERSBURG — Kent Lydecker, director of the Museum of Fine Arts, St. Petersburg, announced his resignation Tuesday. Lydecker, who underwent cardiac surgery several months ago and is recovering in Boston, said in a statement that health reasons were the impetus for his decision to retire.
Jerry Smith, Hazel and William Hough chief curator, will serve as interim executive director as the board organizes a search committee for a new director.
The Beach Drive museum is a comprehensive one, spanning 4,500 years with a permanent collection of about 20,000 works. Lydecker, 66, came to it in 2010 after a distinguished career at major art institutions including the Metropolitan Museum of Art. He is only the fifth director in its 51-year history.
Among his accomplishments was overseeing the renovation of the permanent collections galleries in 2013 and ushering in important exhibitions, including "My Generation: Young Chinese Artists" in 2014, a collaboration with the Tampa Museum of Art.
It was a bold, groundbreaking show that didn't have the instant recognition of art from beloved movements such as Impressionism. And it was a summer show, traditionally a slow season when museums look for small, less expensive exhibitions. It debuted talented contemporary Chinese artists who were often well known in Asia and Europe but not in the United States.
His educational background opened the museum's doors to all manner of special events and activities that attracted diverse crowds who might never have visited the institution before.
"He's recovering well but his doctors have told him it's going to take time," board chairman Mark T. Mahaffey said Tuesday. "It's a big deal. I think he and Toni (Lydecker's wife) just decided it was a good time. I hope he stays connected with the museum."
Toni Lydecker has made her own significant contribution to the museum. The author of several cookbooks and a nationally known food writer, she was in charge of publishing Art + Food, a handsomely designed cookbook now in its second printing.
Smith came to the museum in October 2015 as curator but has also been acting director since Lydecker's surgery, which was planned.
"Fortunately in my first months here, I worked closely with Kent," he said. "We'll continue the vision of the museum during his tenure. Fortunately we have a terrific staff."
Cathy Collins, the board's vice chairwoman, will head a search committee.
"You never know how long the process will take," Mahaffey said. "I see (Jerry) as a possible candidate, he's done a terrific job in Kent's absence, but we don't want to rush things. The first job is to select a search firm."
Mahaffey said Lydecker will consult with Smith and the museum during the transition.
In his statement, Lydecker said, "It has been an extraordinary privilege for me to lead the MFA during this important period in its history. I feel very fortunate to have had the opportunity to work with such a talented staff and engaged board, and I thank them for their support."
Contact Lennie Bennett at [email protected] or (727) 893-8293.