In an interview Friday, Taylor said he had been mulling the move for some time, speaking at length with Timothy Rub, Art Museum director, about the possibility.
"I've actually felt for the last couple of years the desire to make that shift from curator to director," Taylor said. "I've got mixed emotions. On the one hand, I love Philadelphia, but the opportunity is a golden one. . . . I feel it's the right move at the right time."
Rub spent 12 years at the Hood, eight as director. He left the museum in 1999.
"It's a wonderful place and a very fine museum," he said Friday, adding that he had "provided advice and support" as Taylor explored the possibility of moving to New Hampshire and a new job profile.
"He's really been an exemplary member of our staff," Rub said. "You hate to lose someone like that. But it happens. It's likely that really good people go on to do really good things."
Taylor has been a whirligig of curatorial activity at the Art Museum since then-director Anne d'Harnoncourt named him curator of modern art.
He is responsible for curating many of the museum's most ambitious and high-profile exhibitions, including this year's Paris Through the Window: Marc Chagall and His Circle; Picasso and the Avant-Garde in Paris in 2010; Marcel Duchamp: Etant donnés in 2009; Arshile Gorky: A Retrospective, also in 2009; and Salvador Dalí: The Centennial Retrospective in 2005.
He is a scholar of Dada and surrealism, and author of the award-winning Marcel Duchamp: Etant donnés, which served as the hefty catalog to the Art Museum exhibition.
"Michael Taylor is an enormous loss for us," Therese Dolan, former interim dean at Temple's Tyler School of Art and a professor of art history specializing in French modernism. "He's so productive and smart. He'll be very good [at the Hood]. He's very good at whatever he puts his mind to."
The affable, 43-year-old, London-born Taylor came to the museum in 1997 but already had spent time in Philadelphia, researching his Courtauld Institute doctoral dissertation on Duchamp's ready-mades. D'Harnoncourt spotted him in Paris when he curated a 1995 Duchamp segment of a show at the Pompidou Center, and soon brought him to Philadelphia.
In making the announcement, Dartmouth provost Carol Folt characterized Taylor as one "who understands the vital role of the Hood in the life of the students, faculty, and entire community, and will be a tremendous asset to the Hood and Dartmouth."
Rub, who knows the Hood well, called it "an outstanding institution, with a strong commitment to scholarship and to the unique role that an art museum can play in enriching the creative life of the Dartmouth community."
It will be, he said, a fine place for Taylor to launch a career as a museum director: "It's a wonderful place to learn all you need to learn. I kind of grew up there."
As far as Taylor's successor is concerned, Rub said, "Curators are hard to replace but they are not irreplaceable."
In considering possibilities, Rub said the museum was in "a very, very strong position" because of the quality and depth of its modernist collection.
"I'm confident we will find someone very strong," he said. "What you lose [when a curator departs] is knowledge of the collection. To build that up again is always a challenge."
Contact culture writer Stephan Salisbury at 215-854-5594 or firstname.lastname@example.org.