Field of Expertise

Kirk Varnedoe is currently Professor of the History of Art in the School of Historical Studies at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey. He is the fourth art historian to hold this prestigious position, first held by the German Renaissance scholar Erwin Panofksy in the 1930s. Prior to his appointment at the Institute for Advanced Study, Professor Varnedoe served for 13 years as Chief Curator of Painting and Sculpture at The Museum of Modern Art in New York. Before his museum career, he taught History of Art at Stanford University, Columbia University, and The Institute of Fine Arts at New York University.

While at The Museum of Modern Art, Professor Varnedoe initiated a series of exhibitions entitled Artist's Choice, in which contemporary artists were invited to organize an exhibition from the Museum's collections. In this series he invited and worked with Scott Burton, Ellsworth Kelly, Chuck Close, John Baldessari, and Elizabeth Murray. Professor Varnedoe was also responsible for many major acquisitions for the Museum's permanent collection, including distinguished works by early modern masters such as Van Gogh, Matisse, Picasso, and Braque, post-World War II figures such as Kelly, Twombly, Beuys, Rauschenberg, Warhol, Lichtenstein, Rosenquist, and Close, and numerous younger contemporary artists.

Educational Background

Professor Varnedoe received his B.A. from Williams College in 1967, and his M.A. and Ph. D. from Stanford University in 1970 and 1972, respectively. His doctoral dissertation dealt with the work of Auguste Rodin, and he has continued to teach and publish in the field of modern sculpture, while also lecturing and publishing on late 19th and 20th century painting and photography. The major museum exhibitions he has organized, which have been accompanied by substantial catalogues he has authored, include: "Rodin Drawings True and False," with Albert Elsen, in 1971; a retrospective of the French Impressionist painter Gustave Caillebotte, in 1976; a survey of early modern painting in Scandinavia, entitled "Northern Light," in 1982; "Vienna 1900: Art Architecture and Design," in 1986; "High and Low: Modern Art and Popular Culture," with Adam Gopnik, in 1990; and retrospectives of the American painters Cy Twombly, Jasper Johns, and Jackson Pollock, in 1994, 1996, and 1998, respectively.


In 1984 Professor Varnedoe was awarded a five-year MacArthur Fellowship, which allowed him to produce, in 1990, a book of essays entitled A FINE DISREGARD: WHAT MAKES MODERN ART MODERN. In 1992, he held the Slade Professorship at Oxford University, and in Spring 1993 he will be Mellon Professor at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, delivering and eventually publishing six talks in the Mellon Lectures series.


American Academy of Arts and Science - J. Kirk Varnedoe's Biography

Kirk Varnedoe: A Hooligan and a Gentleman

Thirteen/WNET - City Arts: Uncut


Henry Matisse, Isabelle Monod-Fontaine, John Golding, John Elderfield, Anne Baldasarri, Pablo Picasso, Kirk Varnedoe, Elizabeth Cowling. MATISSE/PICASSO. Museum of Modern Art

Jackson Pollock and Kirk Varnedoe, JACKSON POLLOCK. Museum of Modern Art

Kirk Varnedoe, Paola Antonelli, Joshua Siegel, MODERN CONTEMPORARY: ART AT MOMA SINCE 1980. Museum of Modern Art

Robert Storr, Kirk Varnedoe, Deborah Wye, CHUCK CLOSE. Museum of Modern Art

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