Trinidadian-born Kynaston McShine, a pioneering curator of vanguard art, died recently in New York at 82.
McShine organised numerous notable shows for the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) and the Jewish Museum in New York.
In an obituary, ARTNEWS (www.artnews.com) reported that for more than 50 years, McShine devoted himself to organising exhibitions that highlighted the most venturesome and radical of his time. His death, it said, brought to a close “one of the great, essential curatorial careers of the postwar era.”
McShine was born in 1935 in Port of Spain, and got a degree in philosophy from Dartmouth College in 1958.
After graduate studies at the University of Michigan, the next year he joined MoMA’s (Museum of Modern Art) department of circulating exhibitions. But he also continued his graduate work at the New York University Institute of Fine Arts, and later taught there.
In 1965 McShine moved to the Jewish Museum, as curator of painting and sculpture, and the next year he put together Primary Structures, a show of geometric abstract sculpture “widely regarded to have involved the first major presentation of Minimalism in the United States,” said the magazine.
In 1967 McShine organised an Yves Klein retrospective and became the museum’s acting director, a position he held until MoMA rehired him as associate curator of painting and sculpture the next year. He remained there for a half a century, and retired in 2008 as chief curator at large.
When he was hired at MoMA in 1968, McShine was the only person of colour who was a curator at a leading art museum in the United States, according to a New York Times article from the time.
In 1970, Information, an exhibition with an emphasis on conceptual, political, and cutting-edge art, secured McShine’s place as a leading curator at 35.The next year, he began MoMA’s Projects series of shows, devoted to emerging artists. He also proposed a show highlighting works perceived to have enriched the museum’s collection. That grew into a show — The Artist as Adversary — of politically engaged artwork from the collection. McShine remained a force for vanguard contemporary art throughout his time at MoMA. In 1984 he organised An International Survey of Recent Painting and Sculpture, an exhibition of work by more than 150 artists, when the museum reopened after renovations.
The magazine concluded, “Throughout his myriad projects, McShine’s curatorial methodology was always boldly open to new ideas, and intent on trying to execute them, with a focus on artists’ visions. Fittingly, one of his most enduring legacies is his 1999 group show The Museum as Muse: Artists Reflect, which looked at the rich history of artists who closely examined and gamely tested museums.”
It summed up: “A few words stand out now in that elegant formulation when thinking of McShine’s work: respect, vigilantly, and, more than any other, miraculous.”