Austin's loss is Grand Rapids' gain
With all the curatorial and administrative talent that he possesses, you wouldn't expect Dana Friis-Hansen to be out of work long – and you'd be right. Not five months after leaving the Austin Museum of Art, where he spent the last nine years as executive director, Friis-Hansen has been snapped up by Michigan's Grand Rapids Art Museum to serve as its director and chief executive officer.
Without question, this is a huge step up for Friis-Hansen. He arrives as the museum starts its second century – it spent pretty much all of 2010 in grand celebratory mode – but this institution is about the future much more than the past. It's known for the international contemporary art competition ArtPrize, with a $250,000 award determined by public vote. (Last fall, Austin artist Beili Liu's installation Lure/Wave, Grand Rapids was voted third prize and awarded $50,000.) The museum boasts a new $75 million, 125,000 square foot home in downtown Grand Rapids designed by Kulapat Yantrasast, Yo-ichiro Hakomori, and Aaron Loewenson of wHY Architecture in Los Angeles. This was the first art museum in the world to be certified LEED Gold by the Green Building Council and named one of the six best new buildings of 2007 by Newsweek. In the entry pavilion stands the 25-foot-tall wall sculpture Blue White by Ellsworth Kelly, part of a collection that includes more than 5,000 artworks, with some 300 paintings and sculptures by American and European artists of the last 200 years. Last year, museum attendance topped a quarter-million – a mighty impressive number, especially considering that the population of the greater metropolitan area of Grand Rapids is 1.3 million.
Coincidentally, the museum's previous director also came from Texas. Celeste Adams, who left GRAM in March 2010 after 13 years as director, spent the previous 13 years at the Museum of Fine Arts Houston. Friis-Hansen's first day on staff will be Wednesday, July 13. That Friday, the museum is hosting a pair of community receptions for locals to welcome the new director, and admission to the museum will be free all day. A welcoming gesture, indeed. Congratulations, Dana!