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Ann Goldstein, a former senior curator at the Museum of Contemporary Art, resigned as director of the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam Wednesday, intensifying speculation that she could be MOCA's next director.

Since the departure in July of Jeffrey Deitch, Goldstein's name has been among those mentioned as a possible successor, given her history with the museum and her experience running a major art institution.

A Los Angeles native, Goldstein began her museum career at MOCA, rising to senior curator over the course of 20 years.

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She became director of the Stedelijk in January 2010. She led the Stedelijk, which was founded in 1874 and is among Europe's oldest museums of Modern and contemporary art, through the final years of a massive renovation; it had been closed for nine years before reopening in 2012.

At the Stedelijk, Goldstein was curator for a large retrospective of the work of the late Los Angeles artist Mike Kelley, which opened in Amsterdam last December before moving to the Pompidou museum in Paris, where it closed recently. It opens at MoMA PS1 in New York in October and at MOCA in March 2014.

The search for a new director will be headed up by Joel Wachs, a former L.A. City Council president; the co-chairs of MOCA's board of trustees, Maria Bell and David Johnson; and board president Fred Sands.

Goldstein is a longtime friend and colleague of Wachs, a former MOCA trustee who is president of New York's Andy Warhol Foundation; the Warhol Foundation is a primary funder of the traveling Kelley retrospective.

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It remains unclear how far along the committee is in its search. A MOCA spokeswoman said in an e-mail that "the museum has formed a search committee and the search has begun. There is no leaning toward any potential candidate at this point."

Goldstein, who also didn't respond to requests for comment, appears to be a popular choice for director among some people with knowledge of the situation.

"Ann's name constantly appears on people's lists" of possible candidates, said John Walsh, a former Getty Museum director who isn't on the committee but who is familiar with the search.

But he added that the museum hasn't begun the formal process of picking a new director yet.

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"I hope the rumors are true," said Lyn Kienholz, founder of the California/International Arts Foundation. "It would be great because she's had experience. I think she'd do a good job — I think she knows the territory, and in this town you have to know the territory and the players."

In an interview with The Times in December 2012, Goldstein said "MOCA gave me foremost a deeply rooted love and belief in the importance of museums and it gave me a deeply rooted kind of compass of being artist-driven and artist-centered."

In discussing her challenges at the Stedelijk, Goldstein referred to her MOCA experience. "One of the things I learned at MOCA was that we had built a great museum but maybe not a great institution."

She added: "All I want for that museum is to thrive, be supported, be loved and cherished and nurtured and to be able to always fulfill its best potential. It's an institution that really needs to be there. And it needs to be great."

For the record: An earlier version of the story did not include MOCA board president Fred Sands as one of the leaders of the search for a new director. A MOCA representative said Thursday that the museum had not yet announced that Sands has joined the search.

david.ng@latimes.com

kelly.scott@latimes.com

Times art critic Christopher Knight contributed to this report.