September 14, 2011

Cornell Appoints New Director of Johnson Museum

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Stephanie Wiles, of Oberlin College, has been named Director of the Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art, Provost Kent Fuchs announced Wednesday.

Wiles currently serves as the director of Oberlin’s Allen Memorial Art Museum, where she has acquired a diverse collection of works and organized numerous exhibitions, according to a university press release. She has worked there since 2004.

A specialist in Old Master drawings and prints and British and American art, she recently oversaw a 20-month renovation and expansion at the Allen. At the same time, she co-organized exhibitions of the museum’s works at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City and the Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C.

“I deeply admire Cornell’s excellent liberal arts tradition, outstanding professional programs and commitment to developing innovative cross disciplinary partnerships,” Wiles said in a statement. “The excitement of being in a great university setting is really compelling, and it’s a setting in which the museum has played such a great role.”

Ellen Avril, interim co-director and chief curator of the Johnson Museum, said that museum employees were excited by the selection of Wiles.

“She really did stand out to us from the very beginning as someone with a very solid background and experience … She’s very dynamic and energetic,” Avril said. Avril was the only museum staff member to serve on the search committee for a new director.

The search committee was led by Kent Kleinman, dean of the College of Architecture, Art and Planning. In a statement, Kleinman emphasized the importance of finding a candidate who would be able to fulfill the museum’s dual roles of education and curation.

“The committee conducted an extensive, international search and reviewed an extraordinary pool of candidates,” he said. “[Wiles] stood out from beginning to end as ideally qualified for this leadership position. The arts on campus will be in excellent hands under her directorship.”

Wiles’ appointment comes after the retirement of Frank Robinson in June, who served as the museum’s Richard J. Schwartz Director for 19 years. Wiles will start her directorship in mid-November, pending approval by the Board of Trustees in October.

As director, Wiles will oversee museum operations and a staff of 22, as well as a collection of over 35,000 works of art. The museum’s 16,500 square foot underground expansion, which will approximately double the number of works on display, is set to open on Oct. 15.

“Wiles brings to Cornell a wealth of talent and experience and a deep commitment to the arts and arts education — a commitment shared by her predecessor,” Fuchs said in a statement. “I feel confident that she will continue [Robinson]’s legacy of enthusiasm and excellence as the museum enters a new era with the addition of a spectacular new wing opening this semester.”

Avril said she also expects Wiles to build upon Robinson’s legacy, while at the same time making her own mark on the museum.

“I think every new director puts their own stamp on the institution. I’m sure she’ll do that as well. She’s known [Robinson] for a long time,” Avril said. “I think she was really impressed with what [Robinson] has done here and is ready to move things forward into the future.”

Avril said she hopes Wiles will “take things to the next level” as museum director by making use of the new facilities and organizing more exhibitions.

“We’re excited that she will take this in her direction,” Avril said.

Katie Kremnitzer ’13, a member of the History of Art Majors’ Society, said that she hopes Wiles will bring a fresh educational perspective to the director’s role. She emphasized the importance of open access and dialogue between students, particularly undergraduates, and museum curatorial staff.

“It would be really great to work with the director on a personal level,” Kremnitzer said.

Avril said Wiles’ curatorial background will benefit her in her new position.

Before she served as director of the Allen museum, Wiles worked as curator of the Davison Art Center at Wesleyan University and for 16 years at the Morgan Library and Museum in New York City, where she oversaw the Department of Drawings and Prints.

“We think that her connections in her field should benefit us as well,” Avril said. She said that Wiles’ relationships with other museum curators could help develop the Johnson Museum’s collection in areas where it was weak.

While the museum has extensive holdings in Asian and contemporary art, Avril noted that it was lacking in works by European old masters.

Avril said that fundraising will be one of Wiles’ most important responsibilities, as the museum’s funding was cut significantly during the financial crisis. Avril said that Robinson left the museum in stable economic condition, but the museum is still feeling the effects of the cutbacks.

Still, Avril said she was confident Wiles could handle the situation after facing a similar one at the Allen museum.

“She has really proven herself to [be able to] come through tough times at Oberlin,” Avril said.

Original Author: David Marten