Wednesday, May 19, 2004

Arts center hires veteran director

New leader's first task: Put together a team

By Marilyn Bauer
The Cincinnati Enquirer

After a 4 1/2-month search, the Contemporary Arts Center has a new director: Linda Shearer, 58, most recently director of the Williams College Museum of Art in Williamstown, Mass.

"She is everything we were looking for rolled up in one person," said Joe Hale, chairman of the center's board of trustees and a member of the selection committee. He said the former painting and sculpture curator of the Museum of Modern Art in New York "has a very strong curatorial vision. She has a sense of humor and a sense of fun, and approaches her job with a sense of adventure.

• Born: Long Island, N.Y.
• When: Feb. 13, 1946.
• Education: B.A., Sarah Lawrence College, Bronxville, N.Y., 1968.
• Employment: Director, Williams College Museum of Art, 1989-2004; curator, Department of Painting and Sculpture, Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1985-89; executive director, Artists Space, nonprofit gallery and art service organization, 1980-85; associate curator and curator, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York City, 1969-80.
• Teaching experience: Williams College, art lecturer on contemporary art, theory, graduate art history, 1991-2004; School of Visual Arts, New York, "Twentieth Century Art History: Contemporary Art," 1973-79.
"When I asked her what her staff at Williams would miss about her most, she said her laugh."

The Contemporary Arts Center, founded in 1939 as the Modern Art Society, was one of the first institutions in the country dedicated to showing contemporary art. Over the years, the center was housed in various temporary spaces. In May 2003, it moved into the Lois & Richard Rosenthal Center for Contemporary Art, designed by Zaha Hadid. The building, the first American museum designed by a woman, opened to international acclaim. But four months later, director Charles Desmarais stepped down. He went on sabbatical and is now a curator at large.

"It seems like a really exciting opportunity," Shearer said. "It's just the right time in my life. It's a good time for a change."

The widow and mother of a 27-year-old son says she was drawn to the center.

"I fell in love with the building, and I'm looking forward to learning a new community. I didn't know what to expect. It has a real vibrancy. I'm looking forward to exploring."

Shearer received a bachelor of arts degree in 1968 from Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville, N.Y. She began her career in 1969 at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York. In her final year, 1980, she was named associate curator. That same year, she became executive director of New York's Artists Space, a nonprofit gallery. She left in 1985 to go to the Museum of Modern Art in New York as curator in the department of painting and sculpture. She oversaw the PROJECTS program, an acclaimed series of exhibitions on new art. In 1989, she became director of the Williams College Museum of Art, where she stayed for 15 years.

"She's just a bundle of experience," says Carl Solway, a gallery owner and selection committee member. He cited Shearer's commitment to the work of younger artists as a strength. "The art world is going to feel like the CAC has really made a great coup."

During her tenure at Williams, Shearer expanded the museum's permanent collection and secured an Andrew W. Mellon Foundation grant to support interdisciplinary teaching at the college through the museum.

"Linda is very focused on education," Solway said. He thinks that experience will translate into stronger education programs at the center.

Shearer, who starts July 15, will have her work cut out for her. Key positions have remained open for months. She will have to hire a senior curator, a director of development and, if the same staff configuration remains, an assistant director.

During the installation of the current show, Beautiful Losers, the museum was so short-handed that acting director and former assistant director Andree Bober - wearing the designer dress she greeted guests in - and curator Matt Distel worked setting up until the moment the front doors opened.

"Linda's first challenge will be to establish a team," board president Otto Budig said. He said the positions were left open purposely so that Shearer could "paint her own palette" in the selection of her staff.

Shearer, who had never been to the city before her interview for the job, said getting her bearings will be the first order of business. "Getting acquainted is the first thing ... getting a feel for the community and the (center) itself and really coming to understand its history," she says.

Bober, who will leave the center June 15, is moving to Austin, Texas, to be with her husband. They were married just before the new center opened, and Bober was supposed to leave in October. She agreed to stay on as acting director until the center filled the director position.

"It lightens my heart to know the CAC will be in such capable hands," Bober said. "Linda is a veteran, a pro in the museum field. She balances administrative knowledge with curatorial expertise and has a warm and engaging personality. I think she will be able to bring together all of the CAC's great resources and bring the museum to its highest potential."


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