Varnedoe, (John) Kirk (Train) 1946-2003

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VARNEDOE, (John) Kirk (Train) 1946-2003


See index for CA sketch: Born January 18, 1946, in Savannah, GA; died of colon cancer August 14, 2003, in New York, NY. Art historian, educator, and author. Varnedoe is best remembered as the chief curator of painting and sculpture at New York City's Museum of Modern Art. He earned his undergraduate degree at Williams College in 1967, where he taught for a year before going on to graduate school and receiving his Ph.D. at Stanford in 1972. Varnedoe then taught at Stanford for a year and Columbia University for six years before joining the faculty at New York University. He rose from associate professor in 1980 to full professor in 1984. The next year, he also joined the Museum of Modern Art as an associate curator. In 1989, while retaining his position at New York University as an adjunct professor, he was promoted to chief curator of painting and sculpture at the museum. As curator, Varnedoe made significant contributions to the museum by opening it up more to modern artworks of the post-war era. Before Varnedoe's activities there, the museum had gained a reputation for being closed-minded about such pieces, but he brought in art for exhibits from the 1960s, 1970s, and beyond, while also opening up the galleries to artists from outside of France and America (the museum's previous main focus), as well as including more pieces by modern women artists. Thus, the name Museum of Modern Art became much more apropos under Varnedoe. In addition, however, Varnedoe did not neglect the earlier masters, and he added valuable pieces from artists such as Van Gogh and Matisse to the museum's collection. He also organized several important and popular exhibitions, including "Vienna 1900: Art, Architecture, and Design" and "High and Low: Modern Art and Popular Culture." Awarded the genius prize in 1984 from the MacArthur Foundation fellowship, among other honors, Varnedoe was the author of several art history books and exhibit catalogs, including The Drawings of Rodin (1971), written with Albert Elsen, Gustave Caillebotte (1987), Nordic Light: Nordic Art at the Turn of the Century (1988), Cy Twombly: A Retrospective (1994), and (with Pepe Karmel) Jackson Pollock (1998). He was writing a book about a van Gogh portrait of Joseph Roulin that the museum had recently acquired when he passed away.



Chicago Tribune, August 16, 2003, section 2, p. 11.

Los Angeles Times, August 16, 2003, p. B18.

New York Times, August 15, 2003, p. C12.