Melissa Chiu Named Head of Hirshhorn Museum

Melissa Chiu. Photo: © 2014 Patrick McMullan Company, Inc.

Asia Society director and Chinese contemporary art expert Melissa Chiu was named director of the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, DC. Her appointment is effective September 30.

The Hirshhorn has been without a director for the past year. Former director Richard Koshalek left the museum after he was unable to raise funds to complete the centerpiece of his four-year tenure there, a 15-story inflatable bubble that was to be built in the museum’s inner courtyard. Now, the institution, a division of the Smithsonian, is in the process of regaining its footing after high-profile clashes about its finances and long-term mission.

In her new position, Chiu will oversee about 12,000 artworks and 60,000 square feet of exhibition space as well as the 1.3-acre sculpture garden. The museum, which has 51 employees and drew 645,000 visitors last year, has a budget of $8 million, which does not include the $10 to $12 million in operational support supplied by the Smithsonian.

“I am delighted and honored to be taking on the leadership of the Hirshhorn,” Chiu told artnet News. “It has a great history for presenting landmark contemporary exhibitions and has an exceptional collection. It’s perfectly placed to embody all the attributes of the 21st Century.”

Chiu is known for her scholarship and vision. She has written several books on Chinese contemporary art and has worked as an independent curator. In 1996, she joined with a group of Asian Australian artists, performers, filmmakers, and writers to establish Sydney’s Gallery 4A (now the 4A Centre for Contemporary Asian Art), a nonprofit contemporary center devoted to promoting dialogue in the Asia-Pacific region.

She moved to New York in 2001 to work as a curator of contemporary Asian and Asian-American art at Asia Society. She was appointed director there in 2004. Chiu is also senior vice president for global arts and cultural programs. She created a program that connects museum directors in the US and China with the goal of shaping the growth of new museums in Asia. She was born in Darwin, the capital city of Australia’s Northern Territory, which she once described as “a kind of Crocodile Dundee existence.”

(Full disclosure: Melissa Chiu is the wife of Benjamin Genocchio, editor-in-chief of artnet News.)

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