The Smithsonian American Art Museum has announced that Randall Griffey will join its senior leadership team as head curator. Griffey will oversee all aspects of the museum’s curatorial program, including research, exhibitions, acquisitions and collections. He will lead the major reinstallation and reinterpretation plan for all three floors of the museum’s permanent collection galleries. He begins work at the museum this summer.
“Randy is one of the most dynamic curators and influential scholars in the field of American art today,” said Stephanie Stebich, the Margaret and Terry Stent Director of the Smithsonian American Art Museum. “He is known as an exceedingly generous colleague as well as an agent of institutional innovation. I am confident that he will be a transformative leader in building our collections, mounting defining exhibitions, and rethinking the narrative of American art through the national collections of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.”
Griffey will report directly to Stebich, with support from Jane Carpenter-Rock, the museum’s deputy director for museum content and outreach. He will also collaborate on all aspects of the curatorial program with Nora Atkinson, the museum’s Fleur and Charles Bresler Curator-in-Charge, who oversees the museum’s contemporary craft program and staff at its Renwick Gallery. He will supervise the museum’s curatorial staff, which currently consists of eight curators, three curatorial fellows and four curatorial assistants and support staff.
Griffey comes to the museum after a notable tenure at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where he has been curator of modern and contemporary art since 2013. His recent exhibition, co-curated with Kelly Baum, “Alice Neel: People Come First” (2021) was recognized as the Exhibition of the Year by Apollo magazine. He also recently curated “Reckoning with Modernism,” part of the expansive sesquicentennial exhibition “Making The Met, 1870–2020” (2020). He organized, in close collaboration with the artist Kent Monkman (Cree), the groundbreaking Great Hall Commission “Kent Monkman: mistikộsiwak (Wooden Boat People)” (2019–2021), a monumental diptych addressing the history and issues of colonization of North America that became part of the Met’s permanent collection. Additional projects during his tenure include “History Refused to Die: Highlights from the Souls Grown Deep Foundation Gift” (2018), “Marsden Hartley’s Maine” (2017) and “Thomas Hart Benton’s ‘America Today’ Mural Rediscovered” (2014–2015). His efforts at the Met substantially increased the representation of women and artists of color in the collection through major reinstallations and reinterpretations of permanent collection galleries.
Previously, he was a curator of American art at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, Missouri (1999–2008) and curator at the Mead Art Museum at Amherst College (2008–2011), where he also served as head of curatorial affairs in 2012. He completed the Center for Curatorial Leadership program in 2016. Currently, Griffey is a member of the advisory council of the Renee & Chaim Gross Foundation.
He has spoken publicly on a wide range of topics—from public sculpture, Luther Burbank and American still life painting, to the history of collecting—at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, National Gallery of Art, Smith College Museum of Art, Columbus Museum of Art and the Denver Art Museum, in addition to the annual conferences of the College Art Association. His extensive scholarly publications include contributions to American Art, A Companion to American Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin and numerous exhibition catalogs. He has twice been recognized by the Association of Art Museum Curators for his writing, first in 2008 for his article “Marsden Hartley’s Aryanism: Eugenics in a Finnish-Yankee Sauna” that was published in American Art, and in 2011 for his essay “Reconsidering the ‘Soil’: The Stieglitz Circle, Regionalism and Cultural Eugenics in the Twenties” that appeared in the exhibition catalog Youth and Beauty: Art of the American Twenties.
Griffey earned a doctorate in 1999 from the University of Kansas, where the Kress Foundation Department of Art History named him distinguished alumnus in 2018. His dissertation “Marsden Hartley’s Late Paintings: American Masculinity and National Identity in the 1930s and ’40s” received the university’s Dorothy Haglund Prize for Outstanding Doctoral Dissertation. From 1997 to 1998, he was a Sara Roby Fellow in 20th Century American Realism in the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s prestigious fellowship program, the oldest and largest program for the study of American art in the world. A native of northwest Kansas, Griffey graduated from Bethany College in Lindsborg, Kansas, in 1990 with a bachelor’s degree in fine art.