Dr. Ned Rifkin, former undersecretary for art at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., has been appointed director of the Blanton Museum of Art at The University of Texas at Austin.
Beginning Sept. 1, Rifkin also will hold the position of professor of art and art history in the Department of Art and Art History in the College of Fine Arts. He also will become a special adviser to President William Powers Jr. on the visual arts for the campus and collections at the university.
“Ned Rifkin is a tremendous addition to our university,” said Powers. “His vision, energy and knowledge will be a critical factor in shaping the visual arts at the university into a new and exciting era. I could not be more excited or delighted about what Ned Rifkin will mean for making UT one of the nation’s leading centers for the arts. Under his leadership, the Blanton will become the ‘arts entrance’ to our campus.”
The appointment of Rifkin, which follows a nationwide search for a director, was effective May 1, said Dr. Steven Leslie, provost of the university. Rifkin succeeds Jessie Otto Hite, who retired in March 2008 after having been director of the art museum for 15 years. Ann Wilson, associate director of the museum, has been the interim director.
“Ned Rifkin is one of our nation’s most visible and highly regarded art museum directors and we are absolutely delighted to have him as our director of the Blanton Museum,” Leslie said. “His appointment at UT is also a major step forward for the visual arts in Austin.
“Ned’s leadership of the Blanton and his role as special adviser to President Powers sets the stage for what will be a wonderful and leading edge campus-wide focus on the visual arts. Ned has an engaging, collaborative leadership style and discussions will begin immediately for the establishment of partnerships with the Department of Art and Art History, Ransom Center, Briscoe Center for American History and the Benson Library for joint exhibits of the outstanding holdings of these nationally prominent centers. The stage is set for exciting times ahead.”
Leslie said the appointment of a new director coincides with an administrative restructuring that moves supervision of The Blanton Museum of Art from the College of Fine Arts to the Office of the Provost.
“Although the Blanton Museum is strongly connected to the academic units of the College of Fine Arts–and remains strongly connected–its mission as an art museum differs from those academic units,” said Leslie. “We think this move will enable the museum to strengthen and enhance its relationship with the community.”
“It is indeed a privilege for me to accept the positions that The University of Texas at Austin has offered and I am grateful to all of those involved in making it possible for me to come here,” Rifkin said. “After decades of working as a curator, director and leader in the art museum field, it makes complete sense that I would return to Texas, where my career began over 30 years ago as a young professor of art, to lead the Blanton and to share my experiences in the world of art with students, faculty and lovers of art in this important and growing geographical area.
“I am deeply gratified by these appointments and expect to contribute generously to the cultural community at the university, in Austin and nationally. This university has within it numerous colleagues and potential partners to provide those who visit Austin with immensely rich and diverse cultural experiences.”
Prior to his role as undersecretary for art at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., Rifkin directed the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, the Menil Collection and Foundation in Houston and the High Museum of Art in Atlanta. He also has extensive curatorial experience gained at the Hirshhorn, the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. and The New Museum of Contemporary Art in New York. Before entering the art museum profession, Rifkin was an assistant professor in the Department of Art at The University of Texas at Arlington from 1977-1980.
Rifkin was appointed director of the Hirshhorn in 2002 before he took a newly created position of undersecretary for art at the Smithsonian in 2004. As undersecretary of art, Rifkin oversaw a $100 million budget, six museums (Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, the National Museum of African Art, the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, the Hirshhorn and the National Portrait Gallery) as well as the Archives of American Art, the Renwick Gallery and the Smithsonian Photography Initiative.
Rifkin earned his bachelor of arts degree as a fine arts major with a minor in philosophy from Syracuse University. He went on to earn his master’s and doctor of philosophy degrees in the history of art from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.
He has lectured on various subjects in modern and contemporary art, the history of cinema and photography, and not-for-profit leadership practice both nationally and internationally. He has authored numerous articles, books and exhibition catalogues throughout his career and has served on many juries of exhibitions, public sculpture commissions and awards.
The Blanton Museum of Art at The University of Texas at Austin, housed in a recently completed two building complex, is one of the foremost university art museums in the country. The museum’s collection is the largest and most comprehensive in Central Texas and comprises more than 18,000 works. It is recognized for its European paintings, modern and contemporary American and Latin American art and an encyclopedic collection of prints and drawings.