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Sheldon director leaving for New York museum

L. Kent Wolgamott / Lincoln Journal Star

(December 13, 2013)

Jorge Daniel Veneciano is leaving the Sheldon Museum of Art to become director of New York’s El Museo del Barrio.

Veneciano, who has been Sheldon’s director since 2008, will begin work in his new position on March 1.

"I have mixed feelings about leaving Sheldon because I absolutely love this museum," Veneciano said. "I have been afforded another wonderful opportunity and I will pursue it. It is the leading Latin American museum in the country."

University of Nebraska-Lincoln Chancellor Harvey Perlman complimented Veneciano's work at the university's art museum and said a search for his replacement will begin next year.

“For the past five years, Daniel has been a groundbreaking leader for the Sheldon,” Perlman said in a prepared statement. “His knowledge of and commitment to modern and transnational art will serve him well in his new role. He will be missed and we wish him the very best.

“We will conduct a national search for a director in early 2014. The Sheldon is a world class museum of art and we expect to attract world class candidates for this position.”

Veneciano was in New York on Friday. In addition to meeting with El Museo staff, he was interviewing candidates for the Sheldon curator position that opened recently when Brandon Ruud, curator of transnational American art, left the museum.

"I want to make sure everything is in place so the museum can run smoothly in the interim while they are finding my successor," Veneciano said. "That includes having a new curator."

Ruud’s position was created by Veneciano, who implemented a transnational approach to the museum’s collecting and exhibition programming.

Under that emphasis, Veneciano established and purchased art for an “African American Masters Collection” and acquired work by Latino and female artists, including Lee Krasner’s “Invocation,” the most significant acquisition of his tenure.

Veneciano also curated major exhibitions drawn from the Sheldon collection, including last year’s “The Geometric Unconscious” and “Its Surreal Thing: The Temptation of Objects,” which is now on view.

He earned national attention for the museum through the “Year of the Woman” programming in 2011 and the 50th anniversary celebration of the Philip Johnson-designed building by removing the artwork to create “The Naked Museum.”

A proposed Haymarket expansion of Sheldon was designed by top international architect Zaha Hadid under a 2009 commission arranged by Veneciano. Funding for that project, originally estimated at $12.5 million, has not been found. If it occurs, the expansion will be built entirely through donations.

Veneciano also began “artland,” a twice-yearly magazine devoted to arts in Nebraska, and emphasized Sheldon’s connection with the community, creating a curator of civic involvement and inviting community groups to take part in museum exhibitions.

El Museo del Barrio, in East Harlem, has an annual budget of more than $5 million.

El Museo del Barrio has had a turbulent year, with eight layoffs from its 41-person staff, two-month staff furloughs and a cutback in its days of operations from six to four, according to The New York Times. El Museo’s chief curator, deputy executive director and development director all recently left the museum.

Tony Bechara, chairman of the El Museo board, told The New York Times that Veneciano had “a broad, inclusive vision that will make El Museo a center of pride in our community and a source of cultural influence and inspiration in New York and around the world.”

Veneciano will be returning to the area where he spent much of his professional career. He came to Sheldon from New Brunswick, N.J., where he was director of Rutgers University’s Paul Robeson Galleries from 2005 to 2008. He was curator of exhibitions at the Studio Museum in Harlem from 1994 to 1999 and earned his doctorate at Columbia University.

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