The Art Institute of Chicago has found a new director—and it did not have to look far. The museum has appointed James Rondeau, an 18-year veteran of the institution, to succeed Douglas Druick, who plans to retire after more than four years as director of the encyclopaedic museum.
Rondeau, aged 46, is currently the museum’s curator of Modern and contemporary art. He was instrumental in securing the largest gift of art in the museum’s history last year. The plastics manufacturer Stefan Edlis and his wife Gael Neeson donated 42 Pop and contemporary works, valued at $500m, in April. Museums across the globe sought the collection, but the Chicago-based couple was won over by the Art Institute’s offer to keep the gift on public view for 50 years.
Rondeau has organised some of the Art Institute’s most high-profile exhibitions of contemporary art, including retrospectives of Charles Ray and Roy Lichtenstein. He also co-curated the US pavilion at the 2001 Venice Biennale, which featured work by the sculptor Robert Gober.
Rondeau is one of a small but growing number of Modern and contemporary art specialists to take the helm of an encyclopaedic museum. Last year, Anne Pasternak, the former head of the public art organisation Creative Time, became director of the Brooklyn Museum in New York.
Some have questioned the Art Institute’s decision to keep the Edlis-Neeson gift on view for half a century. But Rondeau defended the move
in an interview with The Art Newspaper last year. The “commitment… to display the [Edlis-Neeson] collection for 50 years is by no means a burden,” he said. “We made our selections precisely because they are works we will want—and we believe future stewards of the collection will want—always on view.”
Meanwhile, Druick is entering retirement on a high note. The Art Institute announced this week that it received $35m from the philanthropist Dorothy Baude Edinburg. The donation is the largest cash gift in the museum’s history.