Alistair Hudson is to step down from his role as director of the University of Manchester’s Whitworth Art Gallery and Manchester Art Gallery at the end of 2022.
He has been appointed artistic-scientific chairman of the Centre for Art and Media Karlsruhe (ZKM) in Baden-Württemberg, south-west Germany.
The announcement comes after Hudson reportedly came under pressure to resign earlier this year following a dispute about a statement expressing solidarity with Palestine that was displayed in the 2021 Cloud Studies exhibition by the architectural research group Forensic Architecture.
The gallery removed the statement after a complaint by the legal trust UK Lawyers for Israel (UKLFI), but reversed this decision after Forensic Architecture threatened to pull the exhibition, forcing it to close for three days. It subsequently reopened with the Palestine statement and another statement from Jewish organisations on display.
UKLFI said it had written to the university last year suggesting it should “consider appropriate disciplinary action” against Hudson because of alleged inconsistencies in his account of the incident.
The reported attempt to oust Hudson led to an outcry across the culture sector. More than 100 university staff signed a letter in protest and 23 artists withdrew from the Manchester leg of the touring exhibition British Art Show 9, describing the events as “a direct attack on political freedom and artistic expression”.
The university declined to comment on the matter but said it entirely refuted any suggestion that it had suppressed academic or artistic freedom.
Hudson has remained in post since the controversy. Museums Journal understands that he has not been forced to resign.
Nalin Thakkar, vice president for social responsibility at the University of Manchester, said: “I would like to thank Alistair for all his creative work at the Whitworth and recognise the profound impact of that work on our University and its broader communities.
“Under Alistair’s leadership, the Whitworth has played a central role in allowing for diversity of perspectives and views and using art for positive social change.”
In a statement, Hudson said: “It is a real honour to be able to take on this role at ZKM, which has established itself as one of the principle cultural institutions in the world right now. Most of all, I see it as one of the most relevant centres of the arts and sciences, carving out new horizons as the world changes with exponential speed.”
Petra Olschowski, state secretary at the Baden-Württemberg Ministry of Science, Research and the Arts, said: “We are impressed by [Hudson's] comprehensive view of art, science and technology as drivers of social innovation and participation.”
Before joining the University of Manchester in 2018, Hudson was director of Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art, where he led a research team that pioneered the concept of the “useful museum”, a community-led space providing creative education for all.
The University of Manchester said the process to find a successor will begin shortly.