Kimerly Rorschach, CEO and director of Seattle Art Museum, says that she will step down in fall 2019, after seven years at SAM and a 25-year museum career.
Kimerly Rorschach, CEO and director of Seattle Art Museum, has announced that she will retire next fall, after seven years at SAM.
Rorschach began discussing her departure with board members over the past few months. “It became apparent to me at the end of the summer that I would need to spend more time in my hometown of Houston, where I have an elderly mother and some family business interests,” she said. (She declined to specify the nature of those business interests, but said they were not related to art or museums.)
In a statement, the board said it would “initiate an international search” for her successor.
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SAM has hosted several marquee exhibitions during Rorschach’s tenure, including “Kehinde Wiley: A New Republic” (2016), “Andrew Wyeth: In Retrospect” (2017), “Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirrors” (2017) and “Double Exposure: Edward S. Curtis, Marianne Nicolson, Tracy Rector, Will Wilson” (2018).
The $54 million renovation of Seattle Asian Art Museum (SAAM) in Volunteer Park also began during her leadership. The expanded and renovated SAAM is expected to open next year, before Rorschach steps down.
Since she took the job in 2012, Rorschach said, “Seattle has become more of a regional powerhouse and now it’s a global center.”
The city’s population boom — particularly its infusion of people between 22 and 34 years old — has changed some internal conversations at SAM, from renewed focus on contemporary art to revisiting past work.
“We’ll talk about a potential exhibition and someone might point out: ‘Gosh, we showed that artist in 1996,’ ” Rorschach said. “Then we have to point out that a lot of people didn’t live here in 1996, or weren’t even born in 1996.”
Rorschach, 62, also worked to expand the museum’s palate for contemporary art, strategically pairing exhibitions with acquisitions of new work, including pieces by Mickalene Thomas and Kehinde Wiley.
“Why not capitalize on the exhibition, with lasting evidence?” she said. (In other words, exhibitions are a good excuse to acquire objects to add to the museum’s permanent collection.) “Just today, we approved the acquisition of a work by Jeffrey Gibson,” an artist of Choctaw and Cherokee descent who will have an exhibition at SAM this spring.
SAM also began assembling community advisory committees for every major exhibition — and not just the obviously delicate candidates, like the 150th-anniversary Edward S. Curtis show.
“It’s been so beneficial in connecting us to the community and getting diverse perspectives early,” she said. “It helps us think about marketing and communicating why this exhibition is timely and great for the community.”
In the meantime, Rorschach helped raise nearly $125 million toward a $150 million campaign to boost SAM’s endowment, renovate SAAM and expand programming, the museum said.
“Her passion, her drive, and desire to foster new connections between art, culture, and the community will be greatly missed,” Stewart Landefeld, SAM’s board chairman, said in the statement.
Rorschach might be missed in her role, but she plans to hang around. “It’s a great city, a great museum, and I hope I’ve built on the work of my predecessors,” she said. “I’ll still be a fan, a stakeholder, an audience member — I’m excited to see what the future will hold.”