KANSAS CITY, MO.-
Marc F. Wilson, who led The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art
through a dramatic transformation and major expansion in recent years, has announced that he will retire as Menefee D. and Mary Louise Blackwell Director/CEO, effective June 1, 2010. Wilson has held the position since 1982.
It has been an honor and a privilege to serve this treasured institution, Wilson said. We have come a long way. The Nelson-Atkins of the past has evolved into an institution known for its innovation and its high standards. In the past three decades I have watched the Nelson-Atkins become a player on the world stage.
Great accomplishments are never the work of one person, he said. With the help and devotion of many, this art museum has progressed to world-class status.
During his tenure as the Museums fourth director, Wilsons achievements for the Nelson-Atkins have been prodigious. The Museums collection has been greatly deepened, and curators have reached exceptional levels of scholarship and presentation of works of art. Wilson led the way during three decades to raise institutional standards for collecting and conserving works of art, building membership and financial support, reaching out to the community with education programs, and building what has become one of the countrys finest public art reference libraries.
Marc has created an enormous legacy in the art world, and that is a testament to his passion for connecting visitors with great works of art, said Louis Smith, a member of the Nelson-Atkins Board of Trustees. We want to build on that incredible momentum as we plan for the next chapter at the Nelson-Atkins.
Smith is chairman of a trustee committee that has been formed to conduct an international search for Wilsons successor.
The Museum received wide acclaim when it opened the Bloch Building in 2007, hailed by TIME as the No. 1 Architectural Marvel of 2007. The campus transformation project of the past five years included opening of the Ford Learning Center, reinstallation of the European galleries, acquisition of the Hallmark Photographic Collection, renovation of the Museums renowned Kansas City Sculpture Park, and renovation of the original 1933 Nelson-Atkins Building. Newly expanded and reinstalled American galleries open to the public this week, and greatly expanded American Indian galleries will open this fall.
Marc is a visionary and one of the most intelligent people Ive ever worked with, said Donald J. Hall, a member of the Board of Trustees since 1980. He possesses great knowledge of art and of the museum world, and he has an uncanny ability to visualize the best way to present art to visitors.
Harry C. McCray, Jr., also a trustee, said Wilson had kept the Nelson-Atkins on course and held a high standard of quality in all areas of the Museum.
He has been a wonderful servant through the years, McCray said.
Wilson is considered internationally to be an expert in Chinese art, an area of emphasis for the Nelson-Atkins since its founding in 1933. The Museums holdings in Chinese art, especially painting, are considered the finest in America.
Wilson received his bachelor's degree in European history from Yale in 1963, and his master's degree in art history from Yale in 1967, with a concentration in Chinese studies and Asian art history. His first experience at the Nelson-Atkins came through a Ford Foundation grant, which brought him to the Museum from 1967 to 1969 as a Ford Fellow and enabled him to study with then-Director Laurence Sickman, one of the leading authorities for Chinese studies in the United States.
Another Ford Foundation grant enabled Wilson to travel to Japan, Hong Kong, and Taiwan, where he worked for two years as a translator and project coordinator in the Department of Calligraphy and Painting at the National Palace Museum in Taipei. That museum houses the Imperial collection taken from the mainland when the Nationalists fled following the Communist victory.
At the invitation of Laurence Sickman, Wilson returned to Kansas City in 1971 as Associate Curator of Chinese Art. One of his tasks was to curate an exhibition of Chinese works of art called Archaeological Finds of the Peoples Republic of China, shown first at the National Gallery in Washington and then at the Nelson-Atkins. The 1975 exhibition is remembered for lines of visitors that stretched to the street and became the Museums largest blockbuster.
Wilson was appointed Director of the Nelson-Atkins in 1982, when there were only three voting trustees and about 90 full- and part-time employees. Today a 21-member Board of Trustees is in place, and the staff numbers about 340 full- and part-time employees. When appointed, Wilson was one of four or five staff members who collected art in all areas, but today the curatorial department is arranged into nine areas with 15 curators. Walls of the Museum still were covered in the original monks cloth from the 1930s, and galleries retained their original tan color. Wilson led the staff in rethinking the presentation of works, which involved everything from installing track lighting to introducing color to walls of galleries to solving maintenance and structural problems of the building.
The Nelson-Atkins staff was expanded to include professionals who worked on registration of works, conservation, fundraising, marketing and membership. The library, crucial for research, expanded from 20,000 volumes to todays 155,000 volumes in 10 languages. The education department evolved into an innovative team that offers classes and workshops for children and adults, supports teachers in a variety of curriculums, and reaches out to community groups and schools.
During Wilsons tenure, masterworks were acquired across every department, including the acquisition of Henry Moores bronze sculptures that anchor the Kansas City Sculpture Park, and the four Shuttlecocks by Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen that have become icons not only for the Museum but also for Kansas City. Among major American acquisitions were Thomas Hart Bentons Persephone, Thomas Coles The Mill, Sunset, John Singer Sargents Mrs. Cecil Wade, the Gustave Herter Bookcase and the Greene and Greene Bookcase from the Robert R. Blacker Residence. European acquisitions included Wtewaels The Martyrdom of St. Sebastian, Le Bruns Portrait of Marie-Gabrielle de Gramont, Duchesse de Caderousse, Caillebottes Portrait of Richard Gallo, and the Italian master Il Guercinos Saint Luke Displaying a Painting of the Virgin, as well as the Morel & Cie Tea and Coffee Service.
Among Modern & Contemporary works acquired were Robert Rauschenbergs Tracer, Max Ernsts Capricorn, Ad Reinhardts No. 10, and sculptures by Isamu Noguchi. With the 2006 acquisition of the Hallmark Photographic Collection, the Museum grew its initial holdings of 1,000 photographic works to more than 7,000. To the Museums extraordinary Chinese paintings, works by 17th-century master Dong Qichang and 12th-century master Ziao Zhongchang were added.
In the late 1990s, Nelson-Atkins leaders launched an ambitious project to transform the institution with reinterpretation of the galleries, an expansion to the Museum and a building of the endowment
fund. An architectural search committee was formed, and ultimately Steven Holl Architects Inc. of New York was chosen to design an expansion that cascaded down the eastern edge of the Museum campus.
The Bloch Building would not be as spectacular as it is without Marcs constant attention and his oversight of every detail of the project, said Estelle Sosland, chairman of the Board of Trustees. The results, deserving of all accolades, was due to Marcs creativity and tenacity.
Henry Bloch, a former chair of the Board, said Wilson could easily visualize the building as it began to take shape, even though the design was complex and the building was difficult to construct.
Marc really knows art, and he really understands architecture, Bloch said. And of course he is always interested in what the public wants in a museum. That has certainly worked in our favor.
In recent years, Wilson also has acted as curator of two exhibitions Rising Dragon: Ancient Treasures from China, a 2007 exhibition featuring powerful, recent acquisitions to the Museums collection, and Senses and Sensibilities, a current exhibition of Chinese paintings from the collection, a show that Wilson helped create with art history graduate students from the University of Kansas. In 2005, Wilson and his wife, Elizabeth, presented the Museum with the gift of a work by Radcliffe Bailey, Mound Magician, in honor of Negro Leagues Baseball great John Buck ONeil.
Following his retirement, Wilson plans to remain active in his profession, perhaps pursue an entrepreneurial adventure, and tend to his farm in Weston, Mo. As a dean of the art world, his advice and counsel are often sought on matters concerning museums, collecting, culture and society in general.
This is the end of a chapter, but the Nelson-Atkins will turn the page and begin another chapter, Wilson said. The book will continue.