Release Date: December 1, 2010

After 30 Years Of Service, Joan Rosenbaum to Retire as
Director of the Jewish Museum in June 2011

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New York, NY — Joan Rosenbaum, who has led The Jewish Museum since 1981, creating its innovative identity as a museum of art and culture and doubling the size of its home at Fifth Avenue and 92nd Street, has informed the full Board of Trustees of her intention to retire at the end of June 2011 from her position as Helen Goldsmith Menschel Director of the Museum. Over the course of her 30-year tenure, she has strengthened and expanded every aspect of the Museum: from its world-renowned collection (which has grown to 26,000 objects) to its endowment (which she campaigned to initiate, then built to more than $92 million) to its level of activity, as reflected in an annual operating budget that has risen from $1 million in 1981 to $15 million today.

Joshua Nash, Chairman of the Board of Trustees, announced that the Board had voted unanimously but with regret to accept Ms. Rosenbaum’s planned retirement.

“Joan Rosenbaum is the most influential leader this institution has had in its 106-year history,” Mr. Nash stated. “She has served longer than any other Director and has shaped the Museum more than any other individual. As we carry forward this pre-eminent institution, where millennia of Jewish culture are made manifest through the arts for people of all backgrounds, we are profoundly grateful for Joan’s vision, skill and dedication in building the internationally respected Jewish Museum we know today.”

Robert Pruzan, President of the Board of Trustees, stated that the Board had formally organized a search committee to work with the firm of Phillips Oppenheim to identify the Museum’s next leader.

“Thanks to Joan Rosenbaum, The Jewish Museum is in a very strong position,” Mr. Pruzan stated. “With a dynamic Board, a superb staff, a highly anticipated schedule of exhibitions and programs and a solid financial base, we can look to the future with complete confidence.”

In announcing her planned retirement, Ms. Rosenbaum stated, “I feel 30 years is a very good run for any museum director. I am now ready to take on new projects, having had the education of a lifetime at The Jewish Museum. I have learned from each new exhibition and acquisition and have gathered a world of invaluable experience from a wise and devoted Board and a brilliantly talented staff. Now is the time for a new generation to build on the success we’ve achieved together.”

Redefining The Jewish Museum

In the decades before Ms. Rosenbaum became its Director, The Jewish Museum had been known successively as a museum of Jewish history and religion, housed at The Jewish Theological Seminary of America; as a small but highly influential exhibition venue with a reputation for American avant-garde art; and as an institution with a strong educational concentration on Jewish archaeology and history. Upon taking charge, Ms. Rosenbaum developed the flexible, multifaceted yet powerful identity the institution now enjoys, as an art museum that presents Jewish culture to people of all backgrounds.

Among the internationally acclaimed and award-winning exhibitions the Museum has organized under Ms. Rosenbaum’s leadership are The Dreyfus Affair: Art, Truth, and Justice; Gardens and Ghettos: The Art of Jewish Life in Italy; The Circle of Montparnasse: Jewish Artists in Paris, 1905-1945; New York: Capital of Photography; The Power of Conversation: Jewish Women and Their Salons; Too Jewish? Challenging Traditional Identities; Action/Abstraction: Pollock, de Kooning and American Art, 1940-1976; Schoenberg, Kandinsky, and the Blue Rider; Houdini: Art and Magic; and exhibitions focusing on individual artists including Marc Chagall, Camille Pissarro, Chaim Soutine, Amedeo Modigliani, Man Ray, Anni Albers, Louise Nevelson, Eva Hesse, and Sarah Bernhardt.

Building a Modern Museum and a New Permanent Exhibition

Upon becoming Director, Ms. Rosenbaum took charge of an institution housed since 1947 in a Fifth Avenue mansion that had been the home of Felix Warburg and Frieda Schiff Warburg. Though beautiful and elegant, the mansion (even with its added sculpture court and List Building) was not adequate for the burgeoning exhibitions and programs Ms. Rosenbaum was launching, and it lacked the amenities that visitors expected at world-class museums.

From 1990 through 1993, Ms. Rosenbaum led the project to renovate and expand the building and carry out the Museum’s first major capital campaign, of $60 million. The project, designed by architect Kevin Roche, doubled the size of the Museum, providing it with a seven-story addition that included an improved auditorium and its first café, meeting rooms, children’s gallery, education center and permanent exhibition galleries.

In the latter spaces, Ms. Rosenbaum and the curators created the permanent exhibition Culture and Continuity: The Jewish Journey, presenting 4,000 years of the Jewish experience in the world through a selection of works from the Museum’s unsurpassed collection of more than 26,000 objects: paintings, sculpture, works on paper, photographs, archaeological artifacts, ceremonial objects, and broadcast media.

Expanding and Strengthening the Collection

The Jewish Museum’s collection is one of the three finest of its kind in the world. Under Ms. Rosenbaum’s leadership, the Museum built upon its existing strengths in archaeological artifacts and ceremonial objects and also greatly expanded its holdings in fine arts, with notable acquisitions in painting, sculpture and media.

Major acquisitions to the Museum’s collection during her tenure have included works by Marc Chagall, Edouard Vuillard, Mark Rothko, Lee Krasner, Elie Nadelman, George Segal, Ben Shahn, Andy Warhol, Joan Snyder, Anselm Kiefer, Eleanor Antin, Elaine Reichek, Robert Wilson and William Kentridge.

Two new collecting areas were developed with Ms. Rosenbaum’s guidance: the Museum’s holdings in photography and in contemporary ritual objects. A program to commission noted contemporary artists and designers to create ritual objects has significantly added to the latter collection.

The presence in the Museum of contemporary media also grew dramatically at Ms. Rosenbaum’s initiative, with the establishment of the National Jewish Archive of Broadcasting; the opening of the Museum’s media center; and the founding (with the Film Society of Lincoln Center) of the annual New York Jewish Film Festival.

Reaching Into the Community

Ms. Rosenbaum has overseen a dramatic expansion of the Museum’s broad-based educational programs for families, school groups and adults. The Museum has developed popular and lively family programs including a special exhibition gallery, an activity center, family days built around special exhibitions, including those specifically created for a mixed audience of children and adults. Recent family exhibitions have included From the New Yorker to Shrek: The Art of William Steig; Wild Things: The Art of Maurice Sendak; and Curious George Saves the Day: The Art of Margaret and H.A. Rey.

The Museum has also reached far beyond Fifth Avenue and 92nd Street under Ms. Rosenbaum’s guidance. She initiated the very active program of traveling the Museum’s major exhibitions to cities throughout the United States and Europe, establishing a national and international presence for The Jewish Museum. The publications program, which she also worked to develop and expand, has brought the Museum to a wider audience through major catalogues of its exhibitions and books such as Masterworks of The Jewish Museum and Five Centuries of Hanukkah Lamps from The Jewish Museum.

Strengthening the Financial Base

Under Joan Rosenbaum’s leadership, The Jewish Museum has enjoyed an era of fiscal strength and responsible growth.

The endowment fund, which was started by her, currently stands at $92 million, ensuring stability for the long term. On average, the Museum currently raises more than $9 million a year in contributions from corporations, sponsors, foundations and individuals. The fundraising base has expanded significantly during her tenure, with the Board of Trustees growing from 26 voting members in 1981 to 40 voting members today. Despite the extraordinary economic turbulence of recent years, the Museum has continued to operate with a balanced budget under Ms. Rosenbaum’s direction.

Moving Into the Future

As The Jewish Museum begins to move into its next era, Ms. Rosenbaum will continue to oversee a range of major exhibitions and projects begun under her direction. These include presenting in January 2011 the 20th edition of The New York Jewish Film Festival, now one of the longest-running collaborations among major New York City cultural institutions; presenting the exhibition Collecting Matisse and Modern Masters: The Cone Sisters of Baltimore (opening May 2011); building on the success of the Museum’s family education programming with an exhibition on award-winning author and illustrator Ezra Jack Keats (opening September 2011); planning for an important photography show, The Shock of Ordinary Life: The Photo League, 1936-1951 (opening November 2011); and carrying forward a strategic audience development project.

Joan Rosenbaum: A Brief Biography

A native of Hartford, Connecticut, Joan Rosenbaum studied art history at Boston University and Hunter College and received a certificate in not-for-profit management from Columbia University. She began her museum career as a Curatorial Assistant in Drawing and Prints at The Museum of Modern Art (1965-72), then served from 1972 to 1979 as director of the museum program at the New York State Council on the Arts. She joined The Jewish Museum as its Director in 1981, after one year as a consultant with the Michael Washburn firm.

Joan Rosenbaum has been a frequent speaker and panelist on subjects related to art and Jewish culture and has contributed articles to publications of The Jewish Museum and other institutions. Among the honors she has received are an honorary doctorate from The Jewish Theological Seminary of America in 2003, the Chevalier for Arts and Letters from the Cultural Ministry of France in 1999, and the Knighthood of the Order of the Dannebrog from Denmark in 1983. She is a former member of the boards of Creative Time and Artists Space. Over the years, she has been an active member of the Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD) and The Council of American Jewish Museums (CAJM).

About the Jewish Museum

Located on Museum Mile at Fifth Avenue and 92nd Street, the Jewish Museum is one of the world’s preeminent institutions devoted to exploring art and Jewish culture from ancient to contemporary, offering intellectually engaging, educational, and provocative exhibitions and programs for people of all ages and backgrounds. The Museum was established in 1904, when Judge Mayer Sulzberger donated 26 ceremonial objects to The Jewish Theological Seminary as the core of a museum collection. Today, the Museum maintains a collection of over 30,000 works of art, artifacts, and broadcast media reflecting global Jewish identity, and presents a diverse schedule of internationally acclaimed temporary exhibitions.

The Jewish Museum is located at 1109 Fifth Avenue at 92nd Street, New York City. Museum hours are Saturday, Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday, 11am to 5:45pm; Thursday, 11am to 8pm; and Friday, 11am to 4pm. Museum admission is $15.00 for adults, $12.00 for senior citizens, $7.50 for students, free for visitors 18 and under and Jewish Museum members. Admission is Pay What You Wish on Thursdays from 5pm to 8pm and free on Saturdays. For information on the Jewish Museum, the public may call 212.423.3200 or visit the website at

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