The Portland Art Museum announced this morning that Bruce Guenther, the chief curator and Robert and Mercedes Eichholz Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art, will retire on October 20.
Since joining in 2000, Guenther has been a driving force in the art museum's artistic mission, growth, exhibition curation, and role in the regional (and sometimes international) art scene. He played a significant part in the capital campaign that led to the museum’s 2005 expansion into the 28,000-square-foot Jubitz Center for Modern and Contemporary Art, oversaw the increase of the curatorial team to seven positions (all of which are currently filled), helped acquire some 4,000 works for the permanent collection, and curated some of the museum’s most blockbuster exhibitions, including the 2012 retrospective of Mark Rothko, La Volupté du Goût: French Painting in the Age of Madame de Pompadour, The Body Beautiful in Ancient Greece, and the recent The Art of the Louvre’s Tuileries Garden (which closes September 21), not to mention shows by many local artists. He has also brought individual works by world-renowned artists, such as Frances Bacon's Three Studies of Lucian Freud, which attracted 100,000 viewers and a storm of controversy earlier this year.
"As chief curator, he has played a critical role in helping define not only our modern and contemporary program, but also our larger curatorial vision and aspirations," stated museum director Brian Ferriso in the press release. "His years of experience, knowledge, and deep commitment have left an indelible imprint upon our institution and community. Bruce will be missed."
Guenther will retire after the opening of In Passionate Pursuit: The Arlene and Harold Schnitzer Collection and Legacy, which he curated, on October 18. While the museum conducts an international search for his replacement, Ferriso will step in as the interim chief curator, according to public relations director Beth Heinrich. That means picking up the Portland reins on Guenther's primary 2015 exhibition, Seeing Nature: Landscape Masterworks from the Paul G. Allen Family Collection, which is in partnership with the Seattle Art Museum. The director of collections management, Donald Urquhart, will also take on a larger role in exhibition management in an attempt to fill Guenther's sizable shoes.
Heinrich says she doesn't know if there has been discussion over whether one of the current curators could step into the chief curator position, only that the search will be posted for a chief curator and curator of modern contemporary art.
We’ll certainly be adding to this story and what it means for Portland's art's landscape as we learn more.