Director, Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden
Melissa Chiu (pronounced CHEW) is the director of the Smithsonian’s Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden. She oversees a staff of 50 and a collection of nearly 12,000 objects that represent pieces by leading artists from the late 19th century to the present day, including paintings, sculpture, mixed‑media pieces, photography, works on paper, video and film.
The Hirshhorn, the Smithsonian’s museum of international modern and contemporary art, opened to the public Oct. 4, 1974, with more than 6,000 artworks from the collection of founding benefactor Joseph H. Hirshhorn. Now celebrating its 40th anniversary, the museum remains renowned for its comprehensive holdings of modern sculpture, which include important works by artists such as Alexander Calder, Alberto Giacometti, Henry Moore, Louise Nevelson, Isamu Noguchi and Auguste Rodin. It has developed a specialty in moving-image art, adding works from artists Doug Aitken, Douglas Gordon, Paul Sharits, Michael Snow and others, and maintains an active acquisitions program across all media. Recent major exhibitions have included “Damage Control: Art and Destruction Since 1950,” “Ai Weiwei: According to What?” “Doug Aitken: SONG 1,” “Yves Klein: With the Void, Full Powers,” “Anne Truitt: Perception and Reflection” and “Louise Bourgeois.”
Chiu had previously served as the director of the Asia Society Museum since 2004 and before that she was the curator for contemporary Asian and Asian American art (2001–2004). She launched a contemporary art collection with a gift of $1.5 million from a single benefactor to complement the museum’s John D. Rockefeller 3rd Collection of traditional Asian art. Chiu has focused on expanding the presentation of contemporary art while building a new collection of photography and video, including major acquisitions by Nam June Paik, Yoko Ono, Mariko Mori and Yang Fudong for the Asia Society Museum.
An effective and creative fundraiser, Chiu secured about 80 percent of the Asia Society Museum’s budget through gifts from individuals and foundations and new fundraising initiatives such as the Contemporary Art Council, which was established five years ago and now supports the contemporary art exhibition program with funds and donations of artworks.
Chiu also commissioned groundbreaking international loan exhibitions devoted to modern art, including first-time presentations of Iran’s pre-revolutionary period “Iran Modern” (2013) and “Art and China’s Revolution” (2008), the first exhibition to focus on the art of China’s Cultural Revolution.
She led the opening exhibitions and programs for two new Asia Society buildings in Hong Kong and Houston that opened in 2012. Most recently, she created a series of cultural dialogues between museum leaders in China, India and the United States, such as the U.S.-China Museum Directors Forum in Beijing, which resulted in her co-editing the report “Toward a New Phase of U.S.-China Museum Collaborations” (2013).
Chiu has been an executive committee and board member of the Association of Art Museum Directors (2008–2012), a board member of The American Alliance of Museums (2010–2013) and sat on numerous committees, including the U.S. Praemium Imperiale, Academic Committee for the Shanghai Biennale and Bellagio Creative Arts Fellowship for the Rockefeller Foundation.
Before joining the Asia Society, Chiu was the founding director of the Asia-Australia Arts Centre in Sydney from 1996 until 2001 when she moved to New York. The Centre was housed in a renovated historic building and supported by a combination of private and government funds. Chiu organized exhibits, including displays of newly commissioned works, and created evening programs of video art and performances to attract younger visitors.
From 1993 to 1996, Chiu was the curator for the University of Western Sydney Collection at the University of Western Sydney where she organized exhibitions and built a collection of contemporary Australian art.
A native of Australia, Chiu earned her bachelor’s degree in 1992 at the University of Western Sydney in art history and criticism and her master’s in arts administration in 1994 from the College of Fine Arts at University of New South Wales. She completed her Ph.D. with a dissertation on experimental Chinese art at the University of Western Sydney in 2005. Chiu has authored and edited several books and catalogs on contemporary art, including Contemporary Art in Asia: A Critical Reader (MIT Press, 2010), lectured at Harvard, Yale, Columbia, the Museum of Modern Art and other universities and museums.
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