Elizabeth Armstrong, Minneapolis Institute of Arts curator. Star Tribune photo by Marlin Levison
A dynamic personality who brought a casual style and keen intellect to her job, Armstrong joined the Minneapolis museum in August 2008 to head a new department of contemporary art and to serve as the museum's assistant director for exhibitions and programs, then a new post. The museum had previously collected contemporary art, but in a haphazard way that left huge gaps in its holdings along with masterpieces by Francis Bacon, Chuck Close, Philip Guston, Frank Stella, Cy Twombly and others.
Armstrong focused the acquisition program on contemporary works that extended or interacted in unexpected ways with the museum's holdings of traditional art. Key purchases included a photo by Yinke Shonibare, a British-Nigerian photographer whose staged pictures pose provocative questions about colonialism among other issues.
At the MIA Armstrong also founded the Center for Alternative Museum Practice (CAMP), a department that experiments with fresh ways to mix contemporary and traditional art and to engage the public in its appreciation and understanding. She raised $4 million for new acquisitions and curated a number of key exhibitions including "Global Remix I," " What is Sacred?," "More Real: Art in the Age of Truthiness," and "Until Now: Collecting the New (1960-2010)."
In Palm Springs she will oversee a museum that operates from three sites. The main facility is the Palm Springs Art Museum, a 150,000 sq ft. building in the city's center. That entity has a satelite of the same name in Palm Desert and an Architecture and Design Center, Edwards Harris Pavilion which just opened just opened on Sunday, Nov. 9.
Armstrong succeeds Dr. Steven Nash who oversaw the Palm Springs museum's growth starting in 2007. He is responsible for adding the two satellite locations.
Prior to her tenure at the MIA, Armstrong was Acting Director and Chief Curator at the Orange County Museum of Art (2001-2008) and Senior Curator at the Museum of Contemporary Art in San Diego (1996-2001). She spent 14 years at Walker Art Center as an associate curator (1982-1996), and before that worked in various capacities doing research and curatorial assistance at museums in Berkeley and San Francisco, California and as a grants administrator at the National Endowment for the Humanities in Washington, D. C. She earned a B. A. in American Studies from Hampshire College in Amherst, MA and a M.A. in art history from the University of California, Berkeley.
Among Armstrong's award winning publications are the books Birth of the Cool: California Art, Design, and Culture at Midcentury, and American Moderns: Villa America, 1900-1950 which showcased highlights from the collection of the late Myron Kunin, a Minneapolis-based arts patron and influential mentor to Armstrong and others.