Stephanie Stebich, the Margaret and Terry Stent Director of the Smithsonian American Art Museum, has appointed Nora Atkinson as the Fleur and Charles Bresler Curator-in-Charge for the Renwick Gallery, its branch for contemporary craft and decorative art. Atkinson has been serving as the acting curator-in-charge since January. She joined the museum staff in 2014 as the Lloyd Herman Curator of Craft. Atkinson will oversee acquisitions, exhibitions, research, publications, patron relations and staff at the gallery.
Since joining the museum, Atkinson has organized exhibitions that point to new directions in the field of craft. Her most recent project, “No Spectators: The Art of Burning Man” (2018), created a sensation and attracted record-breaking crowds. The exhibition brought cutting-edge artwork created at Burning Man, the annual desert gathering that is one of the most influential events in contemporary art and culture, to the nation’s capital for the first time. The exhibition included a number of commissioned artworks, including a Temple by David Best, and an outdoor extension titled “No Spectators: Beyond the Renwick” with sculptures displayed throughout the surrounding neighborhood. Attendance at the Renwick more than doubled in 2018 to nearly 850,000 visitors.
Her other recent notable exhibitions include the popular “Murder is Her Hobby: Frances Glessner Lee and the Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death” (2017), “Rick Araluce: The Final Stop” (2018) and “Visions and Revisions: Renwick Invitational 2016.” She oversaw the installation of the permanent collection galleries, “Connections: Contemporary Craft at the Renwick Gallery,” in 2015, following a two-year closure of the Renwick Gallery for renovation, and again in 2019 following the building take-over by the “No Spectators” exhibition.
“Nora Atkinson has brought new energy and an expanded vision of what ‘craft’ means today to projects at the Renwick Gallery,” said Stebich. “Her highly creative exhibitions have not only advanced scholarship but have resonated with the public.”
Atkinson is the author of Craft for a Modern World: The Renwick Gallery Collection (2015) and a co-author of the exhibition catalog accompanying “Visions and Revisions” (2016). Her research interests include contemporary craft and design and the role of the handmade in modern culture.
Atkinson presented a TED talk, “Why art thrives at Burning Man,” in Vancouver in 2018, and has given many talks and presentations across the country. She also has been instrumental in building the museum’s contemporary craft collection through gifts and purchases.
Atkinson was a curator at the Bellevue Arts Museum in Bellevue, Washington, from 2006 to 2014. She earned a bachelor’s degree (2002) and a master’s degree (2006) from the University of Washington, Seattle.
Currently on view at the Renwick Gallery are the exhibitions “Ginny Ruffner: Reforestation of the Imagination” and “Michael Sherrill Retrospective.” “No Spectators: The Art of Burning Man” is currently on tour at the Cincinnati Art Museum through Sept. 2 then opening at the Oakland Museum of California Oct. 12.
About the Smithsonian American Art Museum
The Smithsonian American Art Museum is the home to one of the largest and most inclusive collections of American art in the world. Its artworks reveal America’s rich artistic and cultural history from the colonial period to today. The museum’s main building is located at Eighth and F streets N.W., above the Gallery Place/Chinatown Metrorail station. Museum hours are 11:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily (closed Dec. 25). Its Renwick Gallery, a branch museum dedicated to contemporary craft and decorative arts, is located on Pennsylvania Avenue at 17th Street N.W. The Renwick is open from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. daily (closed Dec. 25). Admission is free. Follow the museum on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube. Smithsonian information: (202) 633-1000. Museum information (recorded): (202) 633-7970. Website: americanart.si.edu.