Henry Art Gallery exterior

Henry Art Gallery Director announces retirement

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Sylvia Wolf Henry Art Gallery Director
Sylva Wolf, photo courtesy Henry Art Gallery

In a note to staff and faculty leadership, Dianne Harris, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, announced that Sylvia Wolf, John S. Behnke Director of the Henry Art Gallery, plans to retire this spring.

“Since Sylvia joined the Henry in April 2008, the museum has become a platform for creative research and the development of new work, featuring a dynamic and diverse roster of artists and programs that amplify underrepresented voices grounded in community and social justice,” said Harris. “We are grateful for Sylvia’s outstanding leadership, for her vision, and for her many contributions to strengthening the Henry and the arts at the University of Washington.”

As the Henry’s leader, Wolf shared her belief that works of art in a public collection should be free and accessible to all and should serve as a resource for generations to come. Over the past 15 years, the Henry’s collection has grown by 30% (now over 28,000 objects) with transformative gifts of photographs, prints, and works of contemporary art. Care of and access to the collection increased markedly under Wolf’s leadership. Together with UW Libraries, she shaped a partnership that resulted in the creation of a jointly held position—Associate Conservator of Paper and Photographs funded by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

In a press release issued by the Henry, Wolf expressed her gratitude to the Henry’s board and staff in supporting the museum’s mission and community engagement. 

“It has been an honor and a pleasure to lead an institution that has been a global beacon and magnet for art and artists since it opened in 1927,“ Wolf noted. “Today, the Henry amplifies diverse voices and champions artists at every level of creation, from ideation to completion. Its great strength—as a laboratory for artists and as a place for communities to engage with the creative process—is made possible through the vital support of the University, the stewardship of a dedicated board, and the expertise of an extraordinarily gifted staff. I am grateful for the milestones we have achieved together, and look forward to seeing the Henry thrive in the years to come.”

Wolf steps down following 35 years of museum service, including 20 years as a photography curator at the Art Institute of Chicago and the Whitney Museum of American Art before joining the Henry as director. As an educator, she taught studio art, art history, and museum studies courses at the graduate and undergraduate level for 20 years. She has served as Professor in the MA program for Curatorial Studies at Columbia University, as Adjunct Professor in art history at New York University’s Tisch School of Art, and as Visiting Professor at the School of Visual Arts, New York. In addition to her role as the Henry’s director, she is currently an Affiliate Faculty member at the UW.

A search for Wolf’s replacement will commence later this year in consultation with the Henry Gallery Association Board of Trustees.


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