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News / February 13, 2019

New Director Named for the National Gallery of Canada

Alexandra Suda, currently a curator of European art at the Art Gallery of Ontario, is the first woman to lead the NGC in more than 20 years
A view of the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa. Photo: Twitter. A view of the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa. Photo: Twitter.

The new director of the National Gallery of Canada has been announced. The CBC reported early this morning that it had learned the directorship would be going to Alexandra Suda. Suda is the first woman in more than 20 years to lead the NGC—the last one was Shirley Thomson, who departed the gallery in 1997.

“It is a great privilege to lead the National Gallery of Canada,” said Suda on the NGC website. “A thrilling adventure awaits us—one that builds on a rich tradition, a world-class collection, and the dedication of the institution’s incredible staff. Human creativity is mankind’s most powerful and sustainable resource—without it we do not stand a chance negotiating the present, let alone creating a future that we cannot see.”

Suda is currently curator of European art at the Art Gallery of Ontario, as well as the chair of prints and drawings. The Orillia-born, Toronto-raised curator takes over from Marc Mayer, who departed the National Gallery in January 2019 after two five-year terms on the job. She will officially begin work at the NGC on April 19, 2019.

Suda’s primary area of expertise is historical European art. She studied art history mainly in the United States: at Princeton University, where she got her bachelor’s, Williams College, where she got her master’s, and the Institute of Fine Arts at New York University, where she got her doctorate. Her doctoral thesis reportedly specialized in images of martyrdom and mutilation in medieval Christian manuscripts.

“I had no idea that I would study art history when I left [Canada] and I had even less of a clue that it would bring me back to Canada—when you study medieval art you don’t generally get to choose where you end up,” Suda once told Open Book. “I would say that the lynchpin opportunity for me in my career was the undergraduate summer internship at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 2003. It opened my eyes to so many fascinating questions around how and why museums worked.”

Suda also worked at the Clark Collection and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in the States—she became a research fellow at the latter in the department of medieval art in 2009/10. She began her work at the Art Gallery of Ontario as assistant curator of European art in 2011. At the Art Gallery of Ontario, she rose quickly through the ranks, becoming associate curator, European in 2013, then curator and chair of print and drawing council in 2015, and then on to interim curator of European art in April 2016.

Alexandra Suda’s biggest curatorial hit to date has been “Small Wonders: Gothic Boxwood Miniatures,” which was at the Art Gallery of Ontario in 2016. Suda co-curated that exhibition with experts from the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam and the Metropolitan Museum in New York. The exhibition also travelled to those other venues, with positive reviews in the New York Times and other international media outlets.

Suda has also been intensively involved with the “Early Rubens” exhibition upcoming at the Art Gallery of Ontario this fall. Suda has also curated exhibitions on the history of books.

Suda, unlike the previous three directors of the National Gallery, has never been director of an art gallery or museum before. Marc Mayer had been director of the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal when he was appointed. Pierre Théberge had been director of the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. And Shirley Thomson had been director of the McCord Museum. This situation, though, is likely affected by the fact that more and more directorships of major regional Canadian galleries and museums have been going to Americans and other international candidates—leaving Canadian curators and museum professionals with fewer opportunities to step into directorship roles.

Suda also contrasts with the previous three directors of the National Gallery of Canada in that she has little to no experience in Quebec and the Quebec art scene.

Though a Department of Canadian Heritage release this morning states that Suda is “a champion ambassador of Canadian art,” a search of the AGO website yields references only to Suda’s work on European art exhibitions. The latter is fitting given her expertise and role at the AGO, but it also contrasts Suda somewhat with Mayer, and Théberge, who had both curated or overseen exhibitions of Canadian artists prior to their tenures at the National Gallery of Canada.

Suda was reportedly hired under a new approach to appointments at Canada’s national museum—one which the government promises supports “open, transparent and merit-based selection processes that strive for gender parity, reflect Canada’s diversity and support ministers in making appointment recommendations for positions within their portfolio by providing them with information and referrals.”

The applications for National Gallery of Canada director job closed on July 3, 2018. The salary for it was listed at $179,200 to $210,800. The top five education and experience requirements were listed as: “a degree from a recognized university in Art History or a relevant field of study, or an acceptable combination of relevant education, job-related training and/or experience; corporate leadership experience at the Chief Executive Officer or senior executive level; leadership experience in national and international outreach initiatives; experience in major fundraising initiatives and establishing collaborative relationships; experience in financial management and revenue generation.”

This story was corrected on February 13, 2019. The original misspelled Shirley Thomson’s last name as “Thompson.”

Leah Sandals

Leah Sandals is a writer and editor of white settler Canadian (Irish and Ashkenazi) descent. She is also news and special sections editor at Canadian Art and has written for the Toronto Star, National Post and Globe and Mail, among other publications. Sandals welcomes tips, corrections and comments anytime at leah@canadianart.ca.