Brian Kennedy (gallery director)

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Brian Patrick Kennedy (born November 5, 1961) is an Irish-born art gallery director who works internationally. He is currently the Director of the Toledo Museum of Art. He was the Director of the Hood Museum of Art from 2005 to 2010, and the National Gallery of Australia (Canberra) from 1997-2004.

Early life[edit]

Kennedy was born in Dublin and attended Clonkeen College. He received B.A. (1982), M.A. (1985) and Ph.D (1989) degrees from UC-Dublin, where he studied both art history and history.

Ireland and Australia[edit]

He worked in the Irish Department of Education (1982), the European Commission, Brussels (1983), and in Ireland at the Chester Beatty Library (1983–85), Government Publications Office (1985–86), and Department of Finance (1986–89). He married Mary Fiona Carlin in 1988.[1][2]

He was Assistant Director at the National Gallery of Ireland in Dublin from 1989 to 1997. He was Chair of the Irish Association of Art Historians from 1996-97,[3] and of the Council of Australian Art Museum Directors from 2001-03, of whose association he is a member. In September 1997 he became Director of the National Gallery of Australia.

National Gallery of Australia (NGA)[edit]

Kennedy expanded the traveling exhibitions and loans program throughout Australia, arranged for several major shows of Australian art abroad, increased the number of exhibitions at the museum itself and oversaw the development of an extensive multi-media site. Although he oversaw several years of the museum's highest ever annual visitation, he discontinued the emphasis of his predecessor, Betty Churcher, on showing "blockbuster" exhibitions.

During his directorship, the NGA gained government support for improving the building and significant private donations and corporate sponsorship. Private funding supported many notable acquisitions including David Hockney's A Bigger Grand Canyon in 1999, and Lucian Freud's After Cézanne in 2001. Kennedy built on the established collections at the museum by acquiring the Holmgren-Spertus collection of Indonesian textiles; the Kenneth Tyler collection of editioned prints, screens, multiples and unique proofs; and the Australian Print Workshop Archive. He also introduced free admission to the gallery, except to major exhibitions. He was also notable for campaigning for the construction of a new "front" entrance to the Gallery, facing King Edward Terrace, which was completed in 2010.

Kennedy's cancellation of the "Sensation exhibition" (scheduled at the NGA from June 2, 2000 to August 13, 2000) was controversial, and seen by some as censorship. The exhibition was created by the Young British Artists of the Saatchi Gallery and attracted large attendances in London and Brooklyn. Its most controversial work was Chris Ofili's The Holy Virgin Mary, a painting which used elephant dung and was accused of being blasphemous. The then-mayor of New York, Rudolph Giuliani, campaigned against the exhibition, claiming it was "Catholic-bashing" and an "aggressive, vicious, disgusting attack on religion." In November 1999, Kennedy cancelled the exhibition and stated that the events in New York had "obscured discussion of the artistic merit of the works of art". He has said that it "was the toughest decision of my professional life, so far."[4]

Kennedy was also repeatedly questioned about the NGA's twenty year-old air-conditioning system. The air-conditioning was finally renovated in 2003.[5] Kennedy announced in 2002 that he would not seek extension of his contract beyond 2004, accepting a seven-year term as had his two predecessors.[6]

He became a joint Irish-Australian citizen in 2003.[7]

United States[edit]

He became Director of the Hood Museum of Art in July 2005.[8] In October 2010 he became Director of the Toledo Museum of Art.

Hood Museum of Art[edit]

Kennedy has implemented a series of large and small-scale exhibitions and publications to bring greater public attention to the museum's remarkable collections of the arts of America, Europe, African, Papua New Guinea and the Polar regions. At 70,000 objects, the Hood has one of the largest collections on any American college of university campus. The exhibition, Black Womanhood: Images, Icons, and Ideologies of the African Body, toured several US venues. Kennedy has increased campus curricular use of works of art, with thousands of objects pulled from storage for classes annually. Numerous acquisitions have been made with the museum's generous endowments, and he has curated several exhibitions: including Wenda Gu: Forest of Stone Steles: Retranslation and Rewriting Tang Dynasty Poetry and Sean Scully: The Art of the Stripe.


Kennedy has written and edited a number of books on art, including:


Kennedy was awarded the Australian Centenary Medal in 2001.[9]


  1. ^ Who's Who in Australia. 2004. 
  2. ^ Who's Who in America. 2009. 
  3. ^ "Arts and human rights". Humanities Research Centre, Australian National University. 2003-07-30. Retrieved 2006-10-17. 
  4. ^ Valerie M. Arvidson (2006). "A Curator from the Outback". Dartmouth Free Press. Retrieved 2006-10-14. 
  5. ^ "Passing on a 'poisoned chalice'". The Age. 2004-02-14. Retrieved 2006-10-14. 
  6. ^ "National Gallery Director resigns". PM. 2004-02-09. Retrieved 2006-11-10. 
  7. ^ Alan Ramsey. "The Irish-Aussie eyes were smiling, Sydney Morning Herald, 28 August 2004. Retrieved 24 July 2014
  8. ^ "Brian Kennedy appointed Director of Dartmouth's Hood Museum of Art". Dartmouth News. 2005-03-08. Retrieved 2006-10-14. 
  9. ^ It's an Honour. Retrieved 24 July 2014
Cultural offices
Preceded by
Betty Churcher
Director of the National Gallery of Australia
Succeeded by
Ron Radford