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Neal Benezra Appointed Director of San Francisco Museum of Modern Art


Elaine McKeon, chair of the Board of Trustees of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA), announced during March, 2002 that Neal Benezra has been appointed director of the Museum. A Bay Area native, Benezra is currently deputy director and Frances and Thomas Dittmer Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art at The Art Institute of Chicago, a dual position he assumed in January 2000. Previously, he spent eight years at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., where he was assistant director for art and public programs (1996-1999) and chief curator (1991-1996). From 1985 to 1991 Benezra served at The Art Institute of Chicago as curator in the department of 20th-century painting and sculpture (promoted from associate curator in 1986). Benezra was curator at the Des Moines Art Center in Iowa from 1983 to 1985, and before that served as one of the first coordinators of the Anderson Art Collection in the San Francisco Bay Area. Benezra holds both doctoral and master's degrees in the history of art from Stanford University; a master's degree in the history of art from the University of California, Davis; and a B.A. with honors in the history of art and political science from the University of California, Berkeley. Benezra will start at SFMOMA on August 1, 2002. He replaces David A. Ross, who stepped down on August 16, 2001.

"I have a longtime emotional attachment to SFMOMA, which provided my very first encounter with works of art," explains Benezra. "Of course, I have been a close observer of the exceptional expansion of the Museum, its collections, exhibitions and overall ambitions during the past 15 years. I couldn't be more pleased by the opportunity to work with the Trustees, staff, patrons and community of this remarkable institution to sustain its growth over the long term," says Benezra. (left: Neal Benezra in front of Two Candles, 1982, Gerhard Richter, collection of the Art Institute of Chicago. Photo courtesy of San Francisco Museum of Modern Art)

The selection of Benezra concludes a seven-month search led by a special committee of the Board of Trustees. McKeon commented on the appointment: "We are extremely pleased that Neal has agreed to lead SFMOMA, and particularly pleased to have found a leader with such strong ties to our community. His curatorial and managerial accomplishments at the Art Institute and the Hirshhorn are widely respected, and we are confident that he is the right person to help us build upon SFMOMA's tremendous success."

At The Art Institute of Chicago, Benezra worked closely with Director and President James N. Wood to shape plans for the design of a major new building by architect Renzo Piano. This 300,000-square-foot facility will include expanded capacity for educational activities and increased exhibition space for the modern and contemporary art collection. Benezra will arrive at SFMOMA in time to unveil the Museum's expanded education center at the heart of the Museum in fall 2002. In his curatorial capacity Benezra has overseen significant growth of the Art Institute's permanent collection of modern and contemporary art, acquiring major works by such artists as Robert Gober, Andreas Gursky, Ellsworth Kelly, Piero Manzoni, Brice Marden, Piet Mondrian, Giorgio Morandi, Jeff Wall and Rachel Whiteread.

Throughout his nearly two decades in the museum field, Benezra has organized such important retrospective exhibitions as Edward Ruscha (2000, Hirshhorn Museum), Bruce Nauman (1994, Hirshhorn Museum and Walker Art Center), Martin Puryear (1991, The Art Institute of Chicago) and Robert Arneson (1986, Des Moines Art Center). While at the Art Institute, he also completed a retrospective of the work of the Spanish sculptor Juan Muñoz, which opened at the Hirshhorn Museum in 2001 and will be presented at the Art Institute; Contemporary Art Museum, Houston; and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, in the coming year. Benezra's publications include numerous essays and articles, including "Renewing Modernism" 2000, a piece featured in the catalogue of SFMOMA's largest exhibition ever, Celebrating Modern Art: The Anderson Collection.

Throughout his career, Benezra has served on numerous professional panels and advisory committees. Presently, he is a member of the Smithsonian Council; the Art Advisory Board of the University of California, San Francisco; and the Art Advisory Panel of the Internal Revenue Service, Department of the Treasury. Benezra has also served as a visiting associate professor at the University of Chicago (1990) and as visiting lecturer at University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign (1988).

Benezra comes to San Francisco with his wife Maria Makela, an art historian, and their nine-year-old daughter, Ava.

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