From the Editor
by Wendy Vogel
More big changes are in store in Austin’s art world and for Texas museum stewardship overall. A statement released yesterday revealed that Blanton Museum director Ned Rifkin will be stepping down from his post as of May 31. Rifkin will remain on the faculty at UT Austin, where he is currently a professor of art and art history and leads a junior seminar on the year 1962 as part of the Plan II program. In The Blanton’s statement, Rifkin said:
“Much as I will miss working with the outstanding staff at The Blanton, I believe my eagerness to teach more and my desire to pursue meaningful research on a variety of topics will better suit me. I wish every possible success to The Blanton as it continues to offer quality programs to transform lives through art.”
Rifkin came to The Blanton in 2009 from the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. where he held the position as Undersecretary for Art and oversaw the workings of six museums. Previous to that, he held director positions at the Hirshhorn Museum of Art, the Menil Collection in Houston and the High Museum in Atlanta. He has worked as a curator at the Hirshhorn Museum, New Museum and Corcoran Gallery of Art.
Rifkin will be succeeded by Simone Wicha, The Blanton’s deputy director for external affairs and operations. Wicha joined The Blanton in 2006 as their director of development, where she successfully completed a $83.5 million building campaign and has made tremendous strides in building their annual giving fund and membership numbers.
While The Blanton has made a definitive leadership transition in appointing Wicha as director, they are currently seeking a new Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art and Curator of European Art. This is a significant step. Out of the two modern and contemporary exhibitions on The Blanton’s the 2011-12 season, one is comprised of collection gifts from the Dorothy and Herbert Vogel Collection and another is a traveling exhibition of works by El Anatsui organized by the Museum of African Art. With the announcement that Arthouse will no longer have a permanent on-staff exhibitions curator, we can hope that The Blanton’s new curatorial talent might provide ambitious programming and an interesting counterpoint to Arthouse’s extreme kunsthalle model. (For more on that, see Claire Ruud and Rachel Cook’s excellent call-and-response think piece in Glasstire and Robert Faires’ article from April 22 in the Chronicle.)
In the meantime, major Texas museums throughout the state are scrambling to fill the vacancies of their top seats. On April 18, the Museum of Fine Arts Houston appointed its search committee to replace longtime director Peter Marzio, who passed away last year. The Dallas Museum of Art announced the week prior that longtime director Bonnie Pitman would step down due to health reasons. Olivier Meslay, Senior Curator of European and American Art and the Barbara Thomas Lemmon Curator of European Art, will serve as interim director. Take into account the additional voids left by directors Dana-Friis-Hansen at AMOA and Matthew Drutt at Artpace and you see an entire art ecology that is poised for re-definition.
I’d like to open this up to you for response and thought. What qualities would you like to see in the new directors of these institutions? What changes could be made to create a more sustainable environment for creativity, exchange and arts patronage statewide? And how might extra-institutional spaces, such as galleries, artist-run spaces, publications and the Texas Biennial (whose Austin and Houston venues are covered in this issue), factor into this new constellation? Share your thoughts here and come out in person this weekend to the Hybrid Arts Summit in Austin, where modes of collaboration, criticism and technology will be discussed. More information on its events are available on Facebook or on the Austin Art Alliance page. Click on the Hybrid Arts icon for a full schedule and come participate!
Wendy Vogel is Editor of ...might be good.