Ned Rifkin Appointed Director of The Blanton Museum of Art

May 8, 2009

AUSTIN, Texas — 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.

Ned Rifkin
Dr. Ned RifkinPhoto courtesy Smithsonian Institution

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.

For more information, contact: Robert D. Meckel, Office of the President, 512 475 7847;  Leslie Lyon, College of Fine Arts, 512-475-7033;  Kathleen Brady Stimpert, Jack S Blanton Museum of Art, 512-475-6784.

12 Comments to "Ned Rifkin Appointed Director of The Blanton Museum of Art"

1.  Olga O. Pina said on May 8, 2009

Congratulations on such a monumental task before you. You have the background, the knowledge and experience to augment and catapult the Blanton to new heights.

In hopes to contribute to your visionary ideals,

Olga O. Pina
El Taller Gallery

2.  TinaMarie said on May 9, 2009

I'd like to wish Ned Rifkin the best at his newly appointed position. He definitely has the right expertise and vision for the future of The Blanton Museum of Art.


3.  Wolfgang Niedert said on May 11, 2009

What a fantastic score for the Blanton and all of Texas. Welcome, Dr. Rifkin.

4.  Kathy Hall said on May 21, 2009

Glad to have you back in Texas.

5.  Lewis Myers said on May 22, 2009

Congratulations to Dr. Rifkin and to the Blanton. This appointment should be a great opportunity for both.

6.  Johanna Keller said on May 28, 2009

Congratulations to the Blanton Museum on this wonderful appointment. Ned has already had extraordinary achievements in the art world and he is sure to take the Blanton to a new level. This is great news--but I hope he's back in New York to visit often!
Johanna Keller
Director, Goldring Arts Journalism Program
Syracuse University

7.  Therese O'Gorman said on July 27, 2009

Congratulations, Ned. How lucky the students are!

Therese O'Gorman
Santa Fe, N.M.

8.  Margie Melton Kusher said on Aug. 2, 2009

Congratulations, Ned! I wish you the very best in this new position. There's something interesting I'd like to discuss with you, and I look forward to hearing from you soon. Margie Melton

9.  Dan Rizzie said on Oct. 23, 2009

Congratulations, Ned. It's a long way from the Response Show at the Tyler Museum in 1980. High praise to the Blanton Museum for this appointment. You have successfully brought Dr. Rifkin back to Texas. Wishing you the best, Dan Rizzie, Sag Harbor, N.Y.

10.  Judy Jashinsky said on Nov. 25, 2009

You are missed in Washington, D.C., but I am so happy for you in this new challenge. The Blanton Museum and University of Texas at Austin students are fortunate to have you.
Happy trails to you.

11.  Allan Graham said on Aug. 26, 2010

Hi Ned,

Just thinking about you today with Gloria wondering where you are -- there you are -- congratulations.

Stay in touch,
Allan and Gloria Graham

12.  Russ Warren said on Sept. 5, 2010


It seems like just yesterday we were having dinner in your apartment in Hoboken. How time flies.

Congratulations on all your successes.

Hope to see you sometime,
Russ Warren