Kynaston McShine. Photo: Marc Ohrem-Leclef / @marcleclef.

Kynaston McShine (1935–2018)

Kynaston McShine, one of the most influential curators of his generation, has died. Born in Port of Spain, Trinidad, on February 20, 1935, McShine earned degrees from Queen’s Royal College and Dartmouth College before attending graduate school at the University of Michigan and then New York University’s Institute of Fine Arts. He taught art history at Hunter College and the School of Visual Arts and received honorary degrees from the San Francisco Institute of the Arts and the University of the West Indies.

In 1965, McShine became the curator of painting and sculpture at the Jewish Museum, where he organized the seminal 1966 exhibition “Primary Structures: Younger British and American Sculptors.” Featuring work by Donald Judd, Ellsworth Kelly, and Anne Truitt, the show was the first-ever museum survey of Minimal sculpture. Commenting on the show, McShine wrote: “The sculptors represented in this exhibition are not consciously allied in a school or in a specific movement, but they do share a stylistic tendency by reason of their interest in ‘primary’ artistic structure. The sculpture is often architectonic, if not architectural. Most of the work does not use base or pedestal, some are oriented to the walls, and some even to the ceiling. The artist feels free to utilize and activate the space of a room or the outdoors according to the internal necessities of the work.”

In 1967, McShine was named acting director of the Jewish Museum, but he left a year later to work at the Museum of Modern Art in New York as associate curator. In 1970, he curated “Information,” a landmark exhibition widely considered the first survey of Conceptual art by a major American museum. McShine went on to organize a number of pioneering exhibitions at the institution, including “Ways of Looking” (1971), a retrospective of Andy Warhol (1989), and “The Museum as Muse: Artists Reflect” (1999).

At MoMA, McShine served as curator of exhibitions (1971–84), senior curator (1984–2001), acting chief curator (2001–2003), and chief curator at large (2003–2008). He also initiated MoMA’s Elaine Dannheisser Projects series in 1971. The program focuses on presenting experimental works by emerging artists and gives younger curators opportunities to organize exhibitions.

Over the course of his career, McShine produced more than a dozen exhibition catalogues, including Richard Serra Sculpture: Forty Years (2007), and received the CCS Bard award for curatorial excellence in 2003. He also served as a board member at the International Association of Art Critics, the College Art, and the American Federation of Arts, among other organizations.