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November 20, 2013

Grant Holcomb to retire from Memorial Art Gallery

Grant Holcomb
Grant Holcomb

Grant Holcomb, the Mary W. and Donald R. Clark Director of the Memorial Art Gallery, announced his retirement as director effective July 1, 2014. Holcomb noted that after an eventful year-long celebration of the gallery’s 100th anniversary and the successful opening of Centennial Sculpture Park, the timing was right for him, as well as for the gallery and the University.

“What more appropriate time to conclude my long tenure as director than after an extraordinary and exhilarating year-long celebration of the gallery’s centennial anniversary,” Holcomb says.

Board of Managers President Jim Durfee will lead a search committee charged with identifying a successor.

Holcomb, the gallery’s sixth director, assumed the position in 1985 and over the course of three decades enhanced the gallery’s permanent collections, broadened its exhibition programs and expanded the facilities. He led collaborations with cultural, educational and medical organizations that kept the Memorial Art Gallery an active leader for public engagement.

“Grant has shaped the gallery’s internal and external spaces and enhanced its collections in ways that will benefit art lovers for generations to come,” says University President Joel Seligman.

Pete Brown, former president of the Board of Managers recounts, “I had the pleasure of chairing the search committee that brought Grant to Rochester 28 years ago. We were struck then by his ability to share the art experience with everyone, regardless of background. To have had the singular continuity of Grant’s steady leadership and focus over the intervening years has enriched MAG and our community far beyond our most ambitious expectations.”

Under Holcomb’s direction, the gallery initiated high-profile exhibitions featuring the work of Maxfield Parrish, Edgar Degas, Georgia O’Keeffe, and Jacob Lawrence. The gallery also acquired works of art ranging from an ancient Egyptian sarcophagus and a Renaissance suit of armor to works by such noted 19th and 20th century artists as Albert Bierstadt, Leonard Volk, Walter Goodman, George Bellows, Joseph Cornell, Jaune Quick-To-See Smith, and Christian Boltanski. The centennial year culminated with the addition of major contemporary works by Yayoi Kusama and Kehinde Wiley. Holcomb supported significant initiatives between the gallery’s education department and the Medical Center, the ARC of Monroe, and the Alzheimer’s Association, among others.

Holcomb has long supported collaborative partnerships with other cultural organizations. Last year he received an award from Writers & Books for his “lifelong contributions to Rochester’s literary community.” Under his direction, the gallery worked with, among others, Garth Fagan Dance, George Eastman House, Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra, Eastman School, Writers & Books, and Rochester Contemporary Art Center.

Holcomb also brought significant changes to the buildings and grounds of the Memorial Art Gallery. At the beginning of his tenure, the addition of the Vanden Brul Pavilion linked the original 1913 building to Cutler Union establishing a new indoor art space, and main gallery entrance on University Avenue. Most recently, Centennial Sculpture Park opened, committing the outdoor space to public art and community engagement. Four new site-specific sculptures make the park the largest initiative in gallery history.

Working with a national search firm, the formal process of accepting nominations for a new gallery director will begin, says Durfee.

“Grant Holcomb has built a singular legacy of quality, character and community engagement,” Durfee says. “No one has been more effective at connecting diverse audiences with art.”

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