Melissa Chiu is director of the Smithsonian’s Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, the national museum of modern art. Since her appointment in 2014, she has advocated for contemporary art through the museum’s exhibitions, acquisitions of works for the collection, and public programs. Recent exhibitions build on the museum’s focus on twentieth and twenty-first century art. The expanded program of exhibitions is both transnational—including large-scale historical surveys of Shirin Neshat, Robert Irwin, and the upcoming Spring 2017 Yayoi Kusama exhibition—and site-specific, such as the upcoming commissions by Mark Bradford (Fall 2017), which are inspired by the Hirshhorn’s unique architecture. Chiu has also broadened the museum’s substantial holdings in European and American post-war art with important additions of global modernism. Under her leadership, works by artists Park Seo-bo, Jimmie Durham, Monir Farmanfarmaian, Natsuyuki Nakanishi, and Senga Nengudi have been added to the collections.
Within the first year of Chiu’s tenure, she doubled the number of board members, which now includes representatives from across the country, and for the first time, international members. She has increased fundraising by 75 percent, and raised attendance by 28 percent. Additionally, she secured two multi-million dollar gifts to the Hirshhorn—the largest gifts in the museum’s history. Chiu’s current organizational focus is transforming the Hirshhorn into a twenty-first century institution, establishing the Future Fund to support a number of new technology initiatives.
Before joining the Hirshhorn, she was museum director of Asia Society in New York where she organized over thirty exhibitions, bringing new artists to the United States and initiating major cultural diplomacy projects that saw first-time exhibitions of antiquities from Vietnam, Burma, and Pakistan. Chiu earned a PhD (2005) in Art History and a MA in Arts Administration (1994), and is the author of numerous articles and books including Breakout: Chinese Art Outside China (2007), Chinese Contemporary Art: 7 Things You Should Know (2008), Asian Art Now (Monacelli Press, 2010, co-authored with Benjamin Genocchio) and an anthology Contemporary Art in Asia: A Critical Reader (MIT Press, 2011, co-edited with Benjamin Genocchio). She has served on numerous panels including Pew, Institute of Museum and Library Services and New York State Council on the Arts, and has served on the board of Association of Art Museum Directors, American Association of Museums and Museums Association of New York.