Smithsonian American Art Museum appoints Randall Griffey as new chief curator
The Smithsonian American Art Museum has announced that Randall Griffey will join its management team as Chief Curator. Griffey will oversee all aspects of the museum’s curatorial program, including research, exhibitions, acquisitions and collections. He will lead the major plan for the reinstallation and reinterpretation of the three floors of the museum’s permanent collections galleries. He starts working at the museum this summer.
“Randy is one of the most dynamic curators and influential scholars in American art today,” said Stephanie Stebich, Margaret and Terry Stent Director of the Smithsonian American Art Museum. “He is known as an extremely 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 reshaping 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 assistant director for museum content and outreach. He will also collaborate on all aspects of the curatorial program with Nora Atkinson, the curator in charge of the Fleur Museum and Charles Bresler, who oversees the museum’s contemporary crafts program and the staff of its Renwick Gallery. He will oversee the museum’s curatorial staff, which currently consists of eight curators, three curator fellows and four assistant curators and support staff.
Griffey arrives at the museum after a notable stint 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’, as part of the extensive sesquicentennial exhibition ‘Making The Met, 1870–2020’ (2020). He organized, in close collaboration with the artist Kent Monkman (Cree), the avant-garde Great Hall Commission “Kent Monkman: mistikộsiwak (Wooden Boat People)” (2019-2021), a monumental diptych addressing the history and the stakes of the colonization of North America. which has become part of the Met’s permanent collection. Other 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) . Her efforts at the Met have dramatically increased the representation of women and artists of color in the collection through significant reinstallations and reinterpretations of permanent collection galleries.
Previously, he was 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 was also Director of Curatorial Affairs in 2012. He completed the Center for Curatorial Leadership program in 2016. Currently, Griffey serves on the Renee & Chaim Gross Foundation Advisory Board.
He has spoken publicly on a wide range of subjects—from public sculpture, Luther Burbank and American still life, to the history of collecting—at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the National Gallery of Art, Smith College Museum of Art, at the Columbus Museum of Art and the Denver Art Museum, in addition to the annual conferences of the College Art Association. His numerous scholarly publications include contributions to American art, a companion to American artthe Bulletin of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and many 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” which was published in american artand in 2011 for his essay “Reconsidering the ‘Soil’: The Stieglitz Circle, Regionalism and Cultural Eugenics in the Twenties” published in the exhibition catalog Youth and Beauty: The Art of the American Twenties.
Griffey received a doctorate in 1999 from the University of Kansas, where the Kress Foundation’s 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 Dorothy Haglund Award for Outstanding Doctoral Dissertation. From 1997 to 1998, he was a Sara Roby Fellow in Twentieth-Century American Realism under the prestigious Smithsonian American Art Museum Fellowship Program, the oldest and largest program of study of American art in the world. Originally from northwestern Kansas, Griffey graduated from Bethany College in Lindsborg, Kansas in 1990 with a Bachelor of Fine Arts.
The Smithsonian American Art Museum is internationally recognized as the premier center for the study, enjoyment, and preservation of American art from the 17th century to the present day. It is the largest of the Smithsonian’s art museums and is a leader in supporting innovative interpretation and major exhibitions of new knowledge. In addition to a strong exhibition program in Washington, D.C., the museum maintains a popular traveling exhibition program and has circulated hundreds of exhibits since the program’s inception in 1951; eight exhibitions are currently on tour.
The museum has been at the forefront of identifying and collecting important aspects of American visual culture, including photography, modern folk and self-taught art, African American art, latinx and video games. The museum has the largest collection of New Deal art and exceptional collections of contemporary crafts, American Impressionist paintings and Golden Age masterpieces. In recent years, the museum has focused on strengthening its collections of Latinx art, Native and Indigenous art, self-taught art, and contemporary art, especially time-based media, through acquisitions, prizes, curatorial appointments, endowments and commissions for new works of art.