Melissa Chiu, Director, Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden
Melissa Chiu is director of the Smithsonian’s Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, the national museum of modern and contemporary art. Since her appointment in 2014, she has advocated for contemporary art through the Museum’s exhibitions, acquisitions, and public programs.
While maintaining the Hirshhorn’s focus on twentieth- and twenty-first century art, the Museum has presented landmark exhibitions of work by some of the most important contemporary artists, notably Shirin Neshat, Robert Irwin, Yayoi Kusama, and Charline von Heyl. Under Ms. Chiu’s leadership, the Hirshhorn has also commissioned site-specific artworks that connect with the Museum’s unique architecture, such as a piece by Linn Meyers and an installation by Mark Bradford. Ms. Chiu has expanded the Museum’s substantial holdings of European and American postwar art to include examples of global modernism. Works by artists Park Seo-bo, Jimmie Durham, Monir Farmanfarmaian, Natsuyuki Nakanishi, and Senga Nengudi have been added to the collection.
Within the first year of Ms. Chiu’s tenure, she doubled the number of board members. The board now includes representatives from across the country, and, for the first time, international members. Under her leadership, the Hirshhorn welcomed over 1 million visitors in 2017—a major milestone marking its highest annual attendance in nearly 30 years and doubling its visitation from three years prior. Additionally, she secured two multi-million dollar gifts to the Hirshhorn—the largest gifts in the Museum’s history. Ms. Chiu’s current organizational focus is transforming the Hirshhorn into a twenty-first-century institution through establishing the Future Fund to support a number of new technology initiatives such as the award-winning mobile video guide, Hirshhorn Eye (Hi).
A native of Australia, Chiu earned her bachelor’s degree in art history and criticism from the University of Western Sydney in 1992 and her master’s degree in arts administration in 1994 from the University of New South Wales. She completed her Ph.D. with a dissertation on contemporary Chinese art at the University of Western Sydney in 2005. Chiu has authored and edited several books and catalogues on contemporary art, including Contemporary Art in Asia: A Critical Reader (MIT Press, 2010), and has lectured at Harvard, Yale, Columbia, the Museum of Modern Art, and other universities and museums.