Judith Tannenbaum: “The greatest thing for me has been the opportunity to work with living artists.” Photo: Eric Mencher/The Philadelphia Inquirer

After 14 years at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Judith Tannenbaum, associate director and curator, is leaving to become curator of contemporary art at Rhode Island School of Design’s Museum of Art. She will leave on May 15, a few days after the opening of her last exhibition at the ICA, “Wall Power,” a collaboration with the Fleisher Art Memorial and the City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program that examines various forms of mural art.
    During her tenure at the ICA, Tannenbaum twice filled in as acting director. One of those stretches, in 1989, coincided with the ICA’s exhibition of photographs by Robert Mapplethorpe, which became a political lightning rod for those opposed to government funding for art they considered obscene. Tannenbaum was thrust into the role of defender of artistic freedom and public funding for the arts.
    “I think we all knew that it was a unique situation,” she recalled recently, “and it was historic, frankly—it wasn’t something anybody could have predicted or could think about happening again. So it certainly was really challenging. It was very gratifying in terms of the response of the Philadelphia community and the University. It was highly political, and I think it sort of strengthened our identity as an institution and also our place in the University. It also took an enormous amount of energy and a lot of our attention for a year.”
    Over the years, Tannenbaum organized many exhibitions of painting, photography, sculptural installations and interdisciplinary work. Among them was the 1992 traveling exhibition of the works of Vija Celmins, which went on to the Whitney Museum of American Art and the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles.
    “I’ve worked with so many wonderful artists,” she said. “I’ve been very involved with the Philadelphia art community and also supervised the education program here. The greatest thing for me has been the opportunity to work with living artists.”
    “Judith has been a major contributor in making the ICA one of the premier contemporary art museums in the country,” said Claudia Gould, the ICA’s current director. “Her loss will be greatly felt.”

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