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Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago Announces Departure of Elizabeth Smith
Elizabeth Smith has resigned after after ten years of exceptional leadership. Photo © Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago.

CHICAGO, IL. Madeleine Grynsztejn, Pritzker Director of the Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA), Chicago, today announced the resignation of Elizabeth Smith, James W. Alsdorf Chief Curator and Deputy Director for Programs, after ten years of exceptional leadership, effective August 31, 2009.

Grynsztejn says, "It is with a deep sense of gratitude that we plan for the departure of Elizabeth Smith after a decade of devoted leadership to the MCA. Elizabeth brought the highest level of curatorial expertise and integrity to the MCA and gave outstanding vision and guidance to the MCA's curatorial team. Her intelligent and thoughtful approach to contemporary art and architecture resulted in numerous groundbreaking exhibitions. In the coming months, we will be focused on searching for a worthy successor to serve as the MCA's chief curator."

Smith defined herself from the beginning with the popular exhibition, At the End of the Century: 100 Years of Architecture, highlighting her expertise in contemporary architecture, which became an integral part of the MCA's mission under her leadership. She also led the curatorial team to originate more exhibitions; collaborate with other institutions; and to initiate more cross-disciplinary shows. Smith says, "I assumed leadership of the MCA's curatorial team at a time when we needed to build the museum's momentum and expand its potential for significant programming, which I feel we've accomplished. After 15 years in Los Angeles, and now a decade in Chicago, I am looking forward to pursuing new challenges ahead as I shift my focus to future projects."

Mary Ittelson, Chair of the Board of Trustees, says, “We are grateful for Elizabeth Smith's accomplishments at the MCA. Her work curating exhibitions and leading the museum's artistic team expanded the MCA's influence in contemporary art and architecture, garnering international acclaim. Her tenure here was notable for its aesthetic insights, profound humanism, and intellectual rigor. She represented the museum with eloquence, integrity, and grace."

Jenny Holzer: PROTECT PROTECT, a major exhibition Smith co-organized with the Fondation Beyeler, Switzerland, is currently on an international tour. In addition, she curated Lee Bontecou: A Retrospective, co-organized with the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles, which traveled to the Museum of Modern Art in New York; and Kerry James Marshall: One True Thing, Meditations on Black Aesthetics, which toured to Miami, Baltimore, New York City, and Birmingham, Alabama. The Bontecou exhibition was awarded “Best Monographic Exhibition Nationally” in 2004 by the AICA (American Section of the International Association of Art Critics), and Smith was named Person of the Year in the Arts by the Chicago Tribune in 2004.

While at the MCA, Smith developed other exhibitions such as the collection-based shows Artists in Depth, Life Death Love Hate Pleasure Pain, and The Fluidity of Time; as well as Sustainable Architecture in Chicago; Garofalo Architects: Between the Museum and the City; Donald Moffett: What Barbara Jordan Wore; Matta in America: Paintings and Drawings of the 1940’s; and Katharina Fritsch.

Smith took the lead in creating the popular ongoing monthly series of exhibitions, UBS 12 x 12: New Artists/New Work, that showcases the talents of emerging artists in Chicago, as well as guiding the Three M Project with the New Museum of Contemporary Art in New York and the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles, which set a new precedent for museums jointly commissioning, exhibiting, and acquiring significant new works of art by emerging contemporary artists.

New collecting strategies were developed by Smith that involved acquiring works by artists featured in MCA exhibitions and collecting key artists in depth. She spearheaded such notable recent acquisitions as Jenny Holzer's For Chicago; Jeff Wall's In front of a nightclub; Sarah Sze's Proportioned to the Groove; and Catherine Opie's Chicago photographs for the "American Cities" series. She also encouraged the development of frequently changing thematic exhibitions that allow the public to see the full breadth of the MCA collection.

In 2005, Smith added Deputy Director for Programs to her position, initiating a museum-wide approach to programming with the MCA's education and performance departments. This resulted in programming around themes such as social responsibility and design innovation in connection with the 2006 exhibition Massive Change: The Future of Global Design, and 'Art and Democracy' in fall 2008.

Educated in art history at Columbia University, Smith has taught at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and the University of Southern California’s School of Fine Arts. She is on the boards of the Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts and the College of Architecture at Illinois Institute of Technology. She has published and lectured widely on topics in contemporary art and architecture and, besides her exhibition-related publications and essays, has authored Techno Architecture (Thames & Hudson, 2000) and Case Study Houses: The Complete CSH Program 1945-66 (Taschen Verlag, 2002).

Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago | curator | Elizabeth Smith | Jenny Holzer | Illinois Institute of Technology |

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