Art Institute of Chicago picks new leader

August 24, 2011

By Lynette Kalsnes

Photo courtesy of Art Institute of Chicago
Douglas Druick

The Art Institute of Chicago board just named Douglas Druick as the museum’s new director Wednesday morning.

Druick, who’s been serving as the interim director, has been with the institution for 26 years.

He headed the department of prints and drawings, as well as the department of medieval to modern European paintings and sculpture, which includes the museum’s famous Impressionist collection. Druick organized some major exhibitions, includingco-curating both “Jasper Johns: Grayand Van Gogh and Gauguin: The Studio of the South.” He co-wrote the catalogues for these shows.

He replaces James Cuno, the former director, who left in June to head the J. Paul Getty Trust.

Druick said he was thrilled by his appointment.

 “I have followed and participated in the many successes that have been achieved here in Chicago - the renovation of the galleries, most recently the opening of the Modern Wing, a string of successful exhibitions and publications that have put us in the forefront of museum publications and exhibitions,” he said. “And now, to be in charge of it and to bring the experience I have developed over the past 20 years to bear on the institution as we move forward is very exciting for me, and I hope will be very exciting for the institution.”

Druick said one of his first priorities is finding a new head of education at the Art Institute to replace someone who retired.

“We are now involved in ways of learning that involve new technology, arguably more engaged and interactive than formally, and these are some of the things that we want to consider moving forward in the way we present our programs, present the collection, but also introduce technology in various forms to the building,” he said.

Druick wants to put even more of the collections online to make them accessible. He also plans to “strategically” expand the Art Institute's permanent collection.

“We do tell the story of modern and contemporary art quite beautifully at the Art Institute – great holdings – but there are missing links, and so part of the ambition is to fill in the missing links.”

Druick said the Art Institute is financially “pretty sound" despite the struggling economy. He said the endowment was up almost 24 percent over last year.

“We are finally where we were before the crash, so that's very good news. We're optimistic about the future, cautiously, of course,” he said.

Druick said the Art Institute's financial picture improved enough to give staff a cost-of-living increase and open all the galleries. The museum had been rotating gallery closures to save money.

Like some other institutions, The Art Institute had also raised admission rates and laid off staff in response to the recession. But Druick said it was too soon to say whether the museum could reverse either of those measures. But he pointed out the institution did get rid of the additional charge for special exhibits when it increased admissions.

The chairman of the board of trustees, Tom Pritzker, called Druick one of the leading curators in the world. He said Druick’s contributions were “immeasurably important” to the development of the museum’s collections and exhibitions.

"As we looked for a new director, the search committee kept returning to Douglas' experience, intellect, and vision for the museum," Pritzker said in a release.

Before joining the Art Institute, Druick was curator of European and American prints at the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa. He’s published extensively, including 15 exhibit catalogues. He’s also lectured around the world.