Chief curator Bruce Guenther retires from the Portland Art Museum

Bruce Guenther, chief curator and The Robert and Mercedes Eichholz Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art at the Portland Art Museum, announced his retirement today, according to a press release from the museum.

For the past 14 years, Guenther has led the museum’s curatorial department, serving under former museum director, the late John Buchanan, and current executive director Brian Ferriso.

“It has been an honor to have worked with Bruce,” Ferriso said in the press release. “As chief curator, he has played a critical role in helping define not only our modern and contemporary program, but also our larger curatorial vision and aspirations. His years of experience, knowledge, and deep commitment have left an indelible imprint upon our institution and community. Bruce will be missed.”

Guenther’s last day will be October 20, following the anticipated opening of his latest exhibition, In Passionate Pursuit: The Arlene and Harold Schnitzer Collection and Legacy.

The museum says it will launch an international search for a chief curator and curator of modern and contemporary art.

During his tenure, Guenther built the curatorial team to its current level of seven, and he was responsible for exhibition publications from concept through production. Guenther played a key role in the Museum’s last capital project, which resulted in the opening of the Jubitz Center for Modern and Contemporary Art in 2005.

Chief Curator Bruce Guenther announced that he was leaving the Portland Art Museum after 14 years.

Chief Curator Bruce Guenther announced that he was leaving the Portland Art Museum after 14 years.

The release lists several other accomplishments: Guenther was responsible for the addition of more than 4,000 works to the permanent collections (the Clement Greenberg Collection, 58 works from Eli and Edythe Broad, and 300 works from the estate of Los Angeles collector Judd Hammack, including works by Frank Auerbach, Sherrie Levine, Jasper Johns, and Brice Marden), and he oversaw notable acquisitions, including The Ox Cart by Vincent van Gogh, Patrician Barnacle by Robert Rauschenberg, and Brushstrokes by Roy Lichtenstein.

He curated dozens of special exhibitions, including major retrospectives and publications of significant Northwest artists Hilda Morris and Lee Kelly. He curated the 2012 retrospective of Mark Rothko and the contemporary survey Disquieted. He also collaborated on, and host curated, important international exhibitions including La Volupté du Goût: French Painting in the Age of Madame de Pompadour, The Body Beautiful in Ancient Greece, and this summer’s The Art of the Louvre’s Tuileries Garden.

The 24 Contemporary Art Series exhibitions curated by Guenther have brought the work of Sophie Calle, Damien Hirst, Kehinde Wiley, Bruce Nauman, and Gerhard Richter to the museum, and Guenther helped secure the Miller Meigs Endowment for the Contemporary Arts that funds the Museum’s exhibitions in that area. Last year’s Masterworks/Portland presentation of Francis Bacon’s Three Studies of Lucian Freud was part of that series.

Francis Bacon, "Three Studies of Lucian Freud," 1969/courtesy Portland Art Museum

Francis Bacon, “Three Studies of Lucian Freud,” 1969/courtesy Portland Art Museum

Prior to joining the Portland Art Museum in 2000, Guenther was the curator of contemporary art at the Seattle Art Museum, chief curator at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, and chief curator of the Orange County Museum of Art. A native Oregonian who graduated from Medford Senior High School in 1966, Guenther began his professional career at the Portland Art Museum in the early 1970s as a National Endowment for the Arts curatorial intern.

ArtsWatch will report further as more details emerge.

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