Smithsonian American Art Museum Names Randall Griffey as New Head Curator 

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The Smithsonian American Art Museum announced today that Randall Griffey will join its senior leadership team as head curator. Griffey will oversee all aspects of the museum’s curatorial program, including research, exhibitions, acquisitions and collections. He will lead the major reinstallation and reinterpretation plan for all three floors of the museum’s permanent collection galleries. He begins work at the museum this summer. 

“Randy is one of the most dynamic curators and influential scholars in the field of American art today,” said Stephanie Stebich, the Margaret and Terry Stent Director of the Smithsonian American Art Museum. “He is known as an exceedingly generous colleague as well as an agent of institutional innovation. I am confident that he will be a transformative leader in building our collections, mounting defining exhibitions, and rethinking the narrative of American art through the national collections of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.” 

Griffey will report directly to Stebich, with support from Jane Carpenter-Rock, the museum’s deputy director for museum content and outreach. He will also collaborate on all aspects of the curatorial program with Nora Atkinson, the museum’s Fleur and Charles Bresler Curator-in-Charge, who oversees the museum’s contemporary craft program and staff at its Renwick Gallery. He will supervise the museum’s curatorial staff, which currently consists of eight curators, three curatorial fellows and four curatorial assistants and support staff. 

Griffey comes to the museum after a notable tenure at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where he has been curator of modern and contemporary art since 2013. His recent exhibition, co-curated with Kelly Baum, “Alice Neel: People Come First” (2021) was recognized as the Exhibition of the Year by Apollo magazine. He also recently curated “Reckoning with Modernism,” part of the expansive sesquicentennial exhibition “Making The Met, 1870–2020” (2020). He organized, in close collaboration with the artist Kent Monkman (Cree), the groundbreaking Great Hall Commission “Kent Monkman: mistikộsiwak (Wooden Boat People)” (2019–2021), a monumental diptych addressing the history and issues of colonization of North America that became part of the Met’s permanent collection. Additional projects during his tenure include “History Refused to Die: Highlights from the Souls Grown Deep Foundation Gift” (2018), “Marsden Hartley’s Maine” (2017) and “Thomas Hart Benton’s ‘America Today’ Mural Rediscovered” (2014–2015). His efforts at the Met substantially increased the representation of women and artists of color in the collection through major reinstallations and reinterpretations of permanent collection galleries. 

Previously, he was a curator of American art at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, Missouri (1999–2008) and curator at the Mead Art Museum at Amherst College (2008–2011), where he also served as head of curatorial affairs in 2012. He completed the Center for Curatorial Leadership program in 2016. Currently, Griffey is a member of the advisory council of the Renee & Chaim Gross Foundation. 

He has spoken publicly on a wide range of topics—from public sculpture, Luther Burbank and American still life painting, to the history of collecting—at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, National Gallery of Art, Smith College Museum of Art, Columbus Museum of Art and the Denver Art Museum, in addition to the annual conferences of the College Art Association. His extensive scholarly publications include contributions to American Art, A Companion to American Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin and numerous exhibition catalogs. He has twice been recognized by the Association of Art Museum Curators for his writing, first in 2008 for his article “Marsden Hartley’s Aryanism: Eugenics in a Finnish-Yankee Sauna” that was published in American Art, and in 2011 for his essay “Reconsidering the ‘Soil’: The Stieglitz Circle, Regionalism and Cultural Eugenics in the Twenties” that appeared in the exhibition catalog Youth and Beauty: Art of the American Twenties

Griffey earned a doctorate in 1999 from the University of Kansas, where the Kress Foundation Department of Art History named him distinguished alumnus in 2018. His dissertation “Marsden Hartley’s Late Paintings: American Masculinity and National Identity in the 1930s and ’40s” received the university’s Dorothy Haglund Prize for Outstanding Doctoral Dissertation. From 1997 to 1998, he was a Sara Roby Fellow in 20th American Realism in the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s prestigious fellowship program, the oldest and largest program for the study of American art in the world. A native of northwest Kansas, Griffey graduated from Bethany College in Lindsborg, Kansas, in 1990 with a bachelor’s degree in fine art. 

The Smithsonian American Art Museum is recognized internationally as the premier center for the study, enjoyment and preservation of American art from the 17th century to today. It is the largest of the Smithsonian art museums and is a leader in supporting innovative interpretation and major exhibitions of new scholarship. In addition to a robust exhibition program in Washington, D.C., the museum maintains a highly regarded traveling exhibition program and has circulated hundreds of exhibitions since the program was established in 1951; eight exhibitions are touring currently. 

The museum has been at the forefront of identifying and collecting significant aspects of American visual culture, including photography, modern folk and self-taught art, African American art, Latinx art and video games. The museum has the largest collection of New Deal art and exceptional collections of contemporary craft, American impressionist paintings and masterpieces from the Gilded Age. In recent years, the museum has focused on strengthening its collections of Latinx art, Native and Indigenous art, self-taught art and contemporary art, particularly time-based media, through acquisitions, awards, curatorial appointments, endowments and by commissioning new artworks.

About the Smithsonian American Art Museum and its Renwick Gallery

The Smithsonian American Art Museum is home to one of the most significant and 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 Renwick Gallery, a branch museum dedicated to contemporary craft and decorative arts, is located on Pennsylvania Avenue at 17th Street N.W. The museums are open on a modified schedule due to the COVID-19 pandemic; check for current hours and admission information. Follow the museum on FacebookInstagramTwitter and YouTube. Smithsonian information: (202) 633-1000. Museum information (recorded): (202) 633-7970. Website: americanart.si.edu.

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