The board of the Art Institute of Chicago has named James Rondeau, a curator and scholar who has led two of the museum’s 11 curatorial departments during his 18-year tenure with the institution, as the new president and Eloise W. Martin Director of the Art Institute.
Rondeau, 46, will succeed Douglas Druick, who announced in October that he would retire after more than 30 years at the museum.
Rondeau is currently the Dittmer Chair and Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art at the Art Institute.
In a prepared statement, Robert M. Levy, chairman of the board of trustees of the Art Institute of Chicago, noted: “James has proven himself one of the most innovative and accomplished curators and museum leaders anywhere. He understands with great insight what makes the Art Institute so powerfully exceptional — the parallel strengths of our founding encyclopedic vision and our remarkable dedication to art of the moment. He has masterfully leveraged that vision and our legacy of excellence to make sure our world-class collection feels inspirational, dynamic, and relevant.”
Levy continued: “James brings a true commitment to the highest standards of scholarship and connoisseurship, and deep expertise in exhibitions, research, and publications. He has a natural ability to forge strong relationships with artists and collectors, and the day-to-day experience of collaborating across museum operations. These are the exact qualities we need to take the Art Institute’s international reputation and prestige to the next level.”
Rondeau, who grew up in South Hadley, Mass., studied American civilization at Middlebury College in Vermont and earned his masters degree in art history at Williams College. He went on to work as a contemporary art curator at the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford, Conn., and arrived at the Art Institute of Chicago in 1998, where he was an associate curator of contemporary art. He was named the department chair in 2004.
Widely acknowledged for his boundless energy and devotion to contemporary art, he was instrumental in defining the museum’s now internationally respected contemporary art program from 2004-2014. From 2008-2009 he also served as interim curator and chair of the Institute’s photography department. And in recent years he has worked to merge the museum’s departments of contemporary and modern art.
Rondeau also has displayed a knack for securing all-important gifts to the museum’s collection. Among the most notable was when, in 2015, he and Druick oversaw the ushering in of the largest gift of art in the museum’s history: the Edlis/Neeson Collection, a treasure chest of Pop Art and other work.
Rondeau has organized and contributed to such Art Institute exhibitions and installations as “Charles Ray: Sculpture, 1998-2015” (with Bernhard Mendes Bürgi, Kunstmuseum Basel), “Steve McQueen” (with Maja Oeri, Schaulager, Basel), “Roy Lichtenstein: A Retrospective” (with Sheena Wagstaff, Tate Modern, London) and Cy Twombly, “The Natural World, Selected Works.”
While Druick, now 70, headed the Art Institute’s department of prints and drawings as well as its department of Medieval to Modern European Painting and Sculpture, before taking on the director’s job, Rondeau clearly is more focused on modern and contemporary art. Yet one of his biggest jobs in the coming years might be to oversee a new building devoted largely to showcasing Asian art.