UW News

January 10, 2008

Sylvia Wolf named Henry Art Gallery director

The Henry Art Gallery has named Sylvia Wolf as its new director, effective April 14. She succeeds Richard Andrews, who is leaving after 20 years at the gallery.

Wolf has been with the Whitney Museum of American Art for eight years, as endowed chair and head of the Department of Photography from 1999 to 2004, and as adjunct curator since 2004.

At the Whitney, she has presented solo shows of work by Roni Horn, Vik Muniz, Irving Penn, and Lorna Simpson, among others. She is the author of more than 12 books on contemporary art and photography, including Visions from America: Photographs from the Whitney Museum of American Art, 1940-2001; Michal Rovner: The Space Between; Ed Ruscha and Photography; The Kids Are Alright: Photographs by Ryan McGinley, and Polaroids: Mapplethorpe. An exhibition of Mapplethorpe’s Polaroids, curated by Wolf, will open at the Whitney in May 2008. Her exhibition Ed Ruscha and Photography, which originated at the Whitney in 2004, will open at The Art Institute of Chicago in March 2008.

Wolf came to the Whitney in 1999 from The Art Institute of Chicago, where she produced more than 25 contemporary art and photography exhibitions during her 12-year tenure. Those accompanied by monographic books include Kenneth Josephson: A Retrospective; Julia Margaret Cameron’s Women, which was on view at The Museum of Modern Art, New York in 1999; and Dieter Appelt: A Retrospective presented at the Guggenheim Museum SoHo in 1995.

“I have long admired Richard Andrews and the curators of the Henry Art Gallery for their provocative and illuminating presentations of contemporary and historical works of art,” Wolf said. “The Henry’s rich collections and its location in Seattle — a gateway to artistic innovation in Canada and Asia—make it a vital resource and a lively venue for artists, scholars, and the public. Future programming will be devoted to pushing boundaries and setting standards in the spirit of boldness with which Horace C. Henry founded the Gallery in 1927. In the years ahead, I look forward to engaging with university students and faculty, with the Seattle cultural community, and with the art world at large in building upon the strengths of the Henry Art Gallery.”

“Sylvia impressed me greatly,” confirmed Henry Art Gallery Board Chairman John Behnke. “I found her intriguing and stimulating, she will be a healthy addition to Seattle’s contemporary art community.”

“I am thrilled that Sylvia has accepted the position,” said Bill True, co-chair of the search committee. “With her extensive background in museum work and academia, she possesses both scholarly acumen and hands-on institutional experience. She’s a perfect match, both for Henry and the University of Washington.”

Among the highlights of Wolf’s museum career are the major acquisition for the Art Institute of Chicago of works by Julia Margaret Cameron, Kenneth Josephson, Susan Meiselas, and Aaron Siskind. For the Whitney Museum, Wolf secured the bulk of Ed Ruscha’s photographic holdings in a major acquisition of over 450 objects. Other significant acquisitions include work by Ann Hamilton, Roni Horn, and Allen Sekula. In addition, Wolf established a program for the long-term preservation of the Whitney’s collections of film, video, and photography by initiating the design, raising funds from government and private sources, and overseeing the building of a temperature- and humidity-controlled storage vault, which is housed in the Whitney’s landmark Marcel Breuer building.

Former Whitney Museum colleague and Dean of California College of Art Lawrence Rinder said, “Sylvia is single-mindedly enthusiastic about art, a brilliant scholar, a passionate supporter of emerging talent, and a generous and skillful administrator. In other words, a perfect fit for the Henry. She is as good at discovering and supporting emerging talent as she is doing serious scholarly research on historical figures. That is a rare combination. Not to mention that she’s honest, open-minded, and kind. She has opened our eyes to the lesser known works of established artists and has given many younger talents their first exposure.”

“We are very pleased to bring Sylvia Wolf to Seattle and the Henry Gallery,” said UW President Mark Emmert. “She will contribute great energy and creativity to the gallery and to the local art scene. Sylvia will also be a terrific resource for our students, the University, and the arts community. It’s a very exciting appointment.”

Ron Irving, Interim Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences said, “I have greatly enjoyed getting to know Sylvia and to experience her warmth, wisdom, and wit. Her experience in museums, the arts, and teaching has prepared her well to build on the foundation Richard has laid in making the Henry one of the premier contemporary art galleries in the nation and an integral partner in the educational initiatives of the college and university.”

As an educator, Wolf has taught studio, art history, and museum studies courses at the graduate and undergraduate level for over fifteen years. Most recently, she has served as professor in the MA program for Curatorial Studies at Columbia University, as adjunct professor in art history at New York University’s Tisch School of Art, and as visiting professor at the School of Visual Arts, New York.

“The arts provide a lens through which we may view the concerns of our time,” Wolf remarks. “The humanities offer a means for studying and interpreting the arts. The Henry’s location within the University of Washington makes it the ideal place for innovation and improvisation, dialogue and debate.”

Wolf received a BA in French literature from Northwestern University, an MFA in photography from Rhode Island School of Design, and is currently writing her dissertation as an international fellow at the Amsterdam School of Cultural Analysis, University of Amsterdam, Netherlands. She has been awarded the Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the French government for her promotion of French culture in the U.S.

Wolf lives in New York City with her husband, Duane Schuler, a theatrical lighting designer and founding partner of the theater consulting firm Schuler Shook, which collaborated with Seattle Center, Seattle Opera, Pacific Northwest Ballet, and LMN Architects on the renovation of the Marion Oliver McCaw Hall, from 2001-2003.

Wolf will be the eighth person in the Henry’s 80-year history to be named director. From 1927 to 1968 the title of director was held ex officio by the chairman of the University’s School of Art. During those years the directorship was held by Walter F. Isaacs (1927 – 1954), Boyer Gonzales (1954 – 1968), and Gervais Reed (1968). Spencer Moseley (1968 – 1972) and LaMar Harrington (1972 -1975) served as assistant or associate directors until the Henry was separated administratively from the School of Art and became a stand-alone unit within the College of Arts and Sciences in 1975. In the ensuing years there have been four directors: Richard Grove (1975 -1978), Harvey West (1978 – 1986), Michael Komanecky (1986 – 1987), and Richard Andrews (1987 – 2008).