The National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, seeks to hire an enthusiastic, innovative, and intellectually rigorous senior historian with experience in an academic, museum or cultural institution to lead the museum’s staff of historians, and to oversee the new center for scholarship at the museum, including oversight of the publications office and serve as the liaison with the American Art and Portraiture library. The incumbent will serve on the executive team and, together with the director, be the foremost person responsible for the pedagogical direction, oversight and historical accuracy of the National Portrait Gallery’s exhibitions, publications and research.
The incumbent will have a Ph.D. in history or American Studies or a related field, have a history of excellent scholarship, as well as multiple peer-reviewed publications, and will be a leader in American studies, history and/or biography. She/he will create biographical material for the museum and monitor the historical accuracy of work produced by the entire museum. She/he will also lead the museum’s new center for scholarship, PORTAL= Portraiture + Analysis, and will be the lead historian for the Portrait Gallery’s permanent collection installations. The incumbent will also research and develop temporary exhibitions on American history, art, and biography and will consult with curators on the development of the permanent collection installations with a particular emphasis on bringing greater diversity and inclusion into the galleries.
The Portrait Gallery is transitioning to become fully bi-lingual (Spanish and English), and undertaking a complete re-interpretation of the permanent galleries in order to tell a more nuanced story about America’s history, including slavery, immigration, and an acknowledgement of portraiture as an elitist art form that excluded many from the national narrative. Therefore scholars with the ability to use portraiture as a platform to discuss contemporary issues around American identity through the lens of history, biography and art are strongly encouraged to apply. The Associate Director for History, Research and Scholarship will be a major spokesperson for the museum, and as well as being an exemplary writer and public intellectual, must be an engaging and confident public speaker.
About National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution
The mission of the National Portrait Gallery is to tell the story of America by portraying the people who shape the nation’s history, development and culture.
The National Portrait Gallery was authorized and founded by Congress in 1962 with the mission to acquire and display portraits of "men and women who have made significant contributions to the history, development, and culture of the people of the United States." Today, the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery continues to narrate the multi-faceted and ever-changing story of America through the individuals who have shaped its culture. Through the visual arts, performing arts, and new media, the Portrait Gallery presents poets and presidents, visionaries and villains, actors and activists whose lives form our national identity.
Looking ahead to its official 50th anniversary on Oct. 7, the Portrait Gallery wraps a monumental year that included the unveiling of President Barack and Michelle Obama’s portraits by artists Kehinde Wiley and Amy Sherald and reaching a record 2 million visitors in the past twelve months . The 2017–2018 season also featured a number of groundbreaking exhibitions, notably “The Sweat of Their Face: Portrayals of American Workers,” “UnSeen: Our Past in a New Light, Ken Gonzales-Day and Titus Kaphar” (on view through Jan. 6, 2019), “Black Out: Silhouettes Then and Now” (on view through March 10, 2019) and “One Year: 1968, An American Odyssey” (on view through May 19, 2019). Still to come as the final exhibition of the museum’s 50th-anniversary program is a major presentation of more than 75 artist self-portraits entitled, “Eye to I: Self-Portraits from 1900 to Today,” opening Nov. 2.
As the museum enters a new chapter, the Portrait Gallery is working on a new strategic plan that will continue to reach diverse audiences and deepen engagement with visitors, including:
- Becoming fully bilingual (English and Spanish).
- Digitizing the remaining 20% of the permanent collection of 23, 000 works of art.
- Continuing a policy that 50% of all collection purchases be of diverse subjects and/or artists.
- Traveling exhibitions across the United States and internationally.
- Hosting the bi-annual Portrait of a Nation Award as part of the inaugural American Portrait Gala to recognize the achievements of leading Americans and raise endowment funds for exhibitions.
- Programing the IDENTIFY performance art series, that since in 2015 has commissioned artists to create original works of art that focus on issues of gender and race.
- Maintaining a partnership with the Dana Tai Soon Burgess Dance Company, that since 2016 has served as the museum's dance company-in-residence and created new performances inspired by Portrait Gallery exhibitions.
- Supporting a full-time accessibility program specialist, and continuing to offer ASL tours and programs for visitors with low vision and blindness, programs for children on the autism spectrum, and provide additional access for individuals with special needs.
- Collecting and presenting all-video acquisition and exhibitions in galleries newly renovated for time-based media.
- Partnering with the Explore! Children’s Museum of Washington, D.C., to offer a gallery dedicated to early childhood learning, ages 18 months to eight years.
- Expanding smARTify—a new app that allows visitors to scan an artwork, identify its title and artist, and learn additional information about the piece.
- Welcoming visitors 364 days a year with free admission.