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15th Annual Mauric Galante Lecture Neal Benezra

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About Neal Benezra

San Francisco Museum of Modern Art

"Neal Benezra was appointed Director of SFMOMA in March 2002 and assumed his role at the museum in August of that year. A Bay Area native, Benezra had previously served as deputy director and Frances and Thomas Dittmer Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art at the Art Institute of Chicago, a dual position he assumed in January 2000. Previously, he spent eight years at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., where he was assistant director for art and public programs (1996-99) and chief curator (1991-96). From 1985 to 1991, Benezra served at the Art Institute of Chicago as curator in the department of 20th-century painting and sculpture (promoted from associate curator in 1986). Benezra was curator at the Des Moines Art Center in Iowa from 1983 to 1985, and before that he served as one of the first coordinators of the Anderson Collection here in the Bay Area. Benezra holds both a Ph.D. and an M.A. in the history of art from Stanford University; an M.A. in the history of art from the University of California, Davis; and a B.A. with honors in the history of art and political science from the University of California, Berkeley. Benezra replaced David A. Ross, who stepped down in August 2001.

At the Art Institute of Chicago, Benezra worked closely with Director and President James N. Wood to shape plans for the design of a major new building by architect Renzo Piano. This 300,000-square-foot facility will include expanded capacity for educational activities and increased exhibition space for the modern and contemporary art collection. In his curatorial capacity, Benezra oversaw significant growth of the Art Institute's permanent collection of modern and contemporary art, acquiring major works by such artists as Robert Gober, Andreas Gursky, Ellsworth Kelly, Piero Manzoni, Brice Marden, Piet Mondrian, Giorgio Morandi, Jeff Wall and Rachel Whiteread.

During his nearly two decades in the museum field, Benezra has organized such important retrospective exhibitions as Edward Ruscha (2000, Hirshhorn Museum), Bruce Nauman (1994, Hirshhorn Museum and Walker Art Center), Martin Puryear (1991, The Art Institute of Chicago) and Robert Arneson (1986, Des Moines Art Center). While at the Art Institute, he also completed a retrospective of the work of the Spanish sculptor Juan Muñoz, which opened at the Hirshhorn Museum in 2001 and was subsequently presented at the Art Institute of Chicago in 2002 and at the Contemporary Art Museum, Houston, and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, the following year. Among Benezra's publications are numerous essays and articles, including "Renewing Modernism" (2000), a piece featured in the catalogue of SFMOMA's largest exhibition ever, Celebrating Modern Art: The Anderson Collection (2000).

Throughout his career, Benezra has served on professional panels and advisory committees. Presently, he is a member of the Smithsonian Council; the Art Advisory Board of the University of California, San Francisco; and the Art Advisory Panel of the Internal Revenue Service, Department of the Treasury. Benezra also served as a visiting associate professor at the University of Chicago (1990) and as visiting lecturer at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign (1988).

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