Kaywin Feldman Becomes Director Of National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC

Kaywin Feldman. Courtesy of the National Gallery of Art.

Kaywin Feldman. Courtesy of the National Gallery of Art.

The National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC, has named Kaywin Feldman as its new director, replacing Earl “Rusty” Powell III, who has led the National Gallery since 1992 Feldman will be the fifth director—and the first ever female director—at the 77-year-old American institution with annual visitors of more than 5.2 million visitors . Feldman, who has been director of the Minneapolis Institute of Art (Mia) since 2008, will take up the new position in March 2019.

artnet News writes: “Under her leadership, attendance at Mia has nearly doubled, from around 450,000 in 2009 to more than 700,000 in 2018 to date. She has also expanded the museum’s digital presence—something the NGA has been conspicuously slow to invest in—and championed equity and social justice in the museum’s program. Earlier this year, the museum announced the launch of its Center for Empathy and the Visual Arts, a think tank dedicated to exploring how museums can build a more just society.

She is also not afraid of experimentation. Last year, for example, the Mia unveiled an unorthodox overhaul of six of its 17 period rooms designed to highlight the power structures behind them. (The fact that one of the room’s previous inhabitants was a slave owner was made explicit, as were his ties to the local Native American community.)

As Feldman moves to lead a DC organization mired in partisan politics, her principled, diplomacy skills will be tested fully by Congress and line staff.

In an essay for Apollo magazine published earlier this year, she wrote:

Art museums are intensely political organizations—political with a small ‘p’. Art is political because it is an expression of lived human experience; identity, love, sex, religion, death, home, happiness, and trauma have always been subjects for artists. A concerned trustee at the Minneapolis Institute of Art, where I am the director, recently asked me if we would ever be the focus of protest. I assured him that we would, and urged him to walk around the galleries if he wanted to find offense. We have it all on our walls: imperialism, colonialism, war, oppression, discrimination, slavery, misogyny, rape, and more.

Feldman addressed the current political landscape, saying:

I am anxious to protect beliefs that are core to Mia and that frequently seem threatened today, including:

• Gender equality
• Diversity, inclusion, equity, and access
• Social justice
• Global understanding
• Scientific research
• Liberal education for all
• Open democracy and freedom of speech
• Essentialness of the arts