The Art Gallery of Ontario has named Stephanie Smith, a Chicago museum director and curator, as its new chief curator.
Smith, whose current position at the University of Chicago’s Smart Museum of Art is deputy director and chief curator, is a “strategic, innovative and inspiring leader,” said AGO director Matthew Teitelbaum. “She has a proven track record for developing interdisciplinary projects that encourage deep audience engagement and participation, and I’m delighted she’ll bring that expertise and passion to the AGO.”
Smith, who starts Aug. 19, takes on the role as museums all over the world struggle to find ways to connect with audiences in a more informal, participatory fashion. To that end, the museum launches Art As Therapy this week, a project fashioned by a pair of British intellectuals, John Robinson and Alain de Botton, that takes works from the museum’s permanent collection and places them under various workaday rubrics: Money, Sex, Politics, Nature, Love. Each section comes equipped with extended explanations of how each painting might make a viewer feel and invites them to respond.
The gallery classifies it as an “experiment” and promises more to come. Smith, with particular expertise in audience engagement, will be expected to bring some of those experiments to the fore as her tenure begins later this year.
It’s the most recent of high-level comings and goings in the past five years for the museum. The position of chief curator, last occupied by Dennis Reid, has been vacant since he was forced into retirement by the museum in 2010. Then, in 2011, the museum’s curator of modern and contemporary art, David Moos, quit, leaving his position vacant for more than a year until the arrival of Kitty Scott in 2012.
A new position, executive director of curatorial affairs, was created when the AGO brought in Elizabeth Smith, also from Chicago, in 2009. Smith left last summer to head the Helen Frankenthaler Foundation in New York. She has not been replaced.