The Rhode Island School of Design Museum of Art has found a new director in John W. Smith, who since 2006 has been director of the Smithsonian Institution’s Archives of American Art. He will assume the RISD post in September 2011.
Among Smith’s achievements at the Archives are expanding the exhibitions and publications program, boosting the presence of contemporary artists in the programming, and raising almost $15 million. He oversaw the institution’s acquisition in 2007 of the Leo Castelli Gallery archive, an invaluable resource documenting the legendary dealer during an important time in recent art history.
For 11 years prior to joining the Archives of American Art, Smith was on the staff of the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh. He served as assistant director for collections, exhibitions, and research (2000–06), curator of archives and director of the museum’s Archives Research Center (1994–2000), and interim director (1995–96). Other previous posts include chief archivist at the Art Institute of Chicago (1990–94).
Smith succeeds Hope Alswang, who abruptly resigned in 2009 after four years and is widely credited with reviving the museum. She purportedly left to pursue other opportunities, but it was widely known that she and RISD president John Maeda clashed over his plans for cutting staff and shuttering the museum during the month of August. He reportedly also floated the idea on the RISD blog of selling off works from the collection to raise funds. Alswang’s departure, rumored to be forced, sparked a controversy that had students and museum professionals outside the school speaking out in her defense. Alswang became the director of the Norton Museum of Art in Palm Beach, Fla., in 2010.
As a result of the controversy, last year RISD adopted a new management structure for the museum. Instead of reporting directly to the school’s president, the museum director now reports to the chair of the museum’s board of governors, which oversees the museum.