Dennis Szakacs

Dennis Szakacs, director of the Orange County Museum of Art, will be stepping down at the end of December. (Christine Cotter / Los Angeles Times / September 5, 2013)

Dennis Szakacs, who has served as the director and chief executive officer of the Orange County Museum of Art since 2003, will be stepping down from his position at the end of the year, the museum announced on Thursday.

Szakacs said in a statement sent by the museum that he is leaving OCMA to "explore new opportunities." The museum said its board has formed a search committee and engaged the services of a search firm to find its next director and CEO.

In a phone interview, Szakacs said that it was his decision to step down and that he is leaving because "I felt I had accomplished what I came to do." He described the museum as being in good financial health.

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Szakacs said that his next position will likely be "in the museum world" but he didn't elaborate. Before coming to OCMA, he worked at the New Museum in New York and at the Museum of Modern Art's PS1, also in New York.

OCMA, which is located in Newport Beach, is the most prominent modern and contemporary art museum in Orange County. It organized the California Biennial -- now the California-Pacific Triennial -- which has become an increasingly high-profile showcase for contemporary artists on the West Coast.

The museum said that under Szakacs' leadership its annual budget increased from $2.5 million to nearly $5 million, and its endowment rose from $7 million to $11 million.

The museum said that his resignation is effective Dec. 31 and that he will "be available as a consultant to the museum through the middle of next year."

In 2009, OCMA was at the center of a controversy over its quiet sale of 18 California Impressionist paintings to a private collector. Szakacs defended the museum's decision at the time, telling The Times that the transaction was executed with a high level of transparency.

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