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Kirk Varnedoe papers, 1890-2006 (bulk 1970-2003)

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Varnedoe (Kirk) Papers

Biographical/Historical Note

Kirk Varnedoe was born in Savannah, Georgia in 1946 to a wealthy and distinguished Southern family. He attended Williams College, where he began studying studio art, but soon switched to art history under the influence of Professor Lane Faison. He also played college football and, after graduating, returned to coach the football team and teach art history for a year. He then earned a Ph.D. at Stanford under Rodin scholar Albert Elsen, with whom he collaborated on an exhibition and catalog about the profusion of drawings falsely attributed to Rodin. From 1974 to 1988 he taught first at Columbia University and then at the Institute of Fine Arts, while also curating exhibitions on Scandinavian painting, Gustave Caillebotte, turn-of-the century Vienna, and primitivism in Modern Art. From 1988 to 2002 he was the curator of painting and sculpture at the Museum of Modern Art, New York. His exhibitions there, beginning with High and Low: Modern Art and Popular Culture, and ending with a major retrospective on Jackson Pollock, attempted to acquaint the museum-going public with art historical narratives that artists and academics had long accepted. These efforts, together with Varnedoe's Artist Choice series, which engaged contemporary artists to organize exhibitions of work from the permanent collection, helped move the museum into a less canonical and more dynamic presentation of modern art.




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