Mark Andrew White (PhD '99)
New Mexico Museum of Art
Dr. Mark Andrew White, Executive Director of the New Mexico Museum of Art, has been selected as this academic year’s Murphy Distinguished Alumni Lecturer. An Oklahoma native, Dr. White earned his BA in art history from Oklahoma State University (‘92) and his MA (’94) and PhD (’99) from KU. His dissertation, “From Dynamism to Objectivity: The Late Career of George Bellows,” was directed by David Cateforis. From 1998 to 2000, Dr. White was Curator of Exhibitions at the Edwin A. Ulrich Museum of Art, Wichita State University. He then served on the art history faculty at Oklahoma State University, as Assistant Professor (2000-6) and Associate Professor (2006-8), and directed OSU’s Gardiner Gallery of Art (2001-3). While at OSU, his research was supported by a fellowship at the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum and Research Center (2003-4) and a Davidson Family Fellowship at the Amon Carter Museum (2007). Dr. White returned to the curatorial ranks as the Eugene B. Adkins Senior Curator and Curator of Collections at the Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art (FJJMA), University of Oklahoma (2009-15). He was promoted in 2015 to the FJJMA’s Wylodean and Bill Saxon Director and Chief Curator. He assumed the executive directorship of the New Mexico Museum of Art in May 2020.
Dr. White organized numerous exhibitions for the FJJMA, many accompanied by publications (listed below). including, “A Century of Magic: The Animation of Walt Disney Studios” (2012); “Art Interrupted: Advancing American Art and the Politics of Cultural Diplomacy” (2012-14); “Macrocosm/Microcosm: Abstract Expressionism in the American Southwest” (2014-15); “A World Unconquered: The Art of Oscar Brousse Jacobson” (2015); “Picturing Indian Territory, 1819-1907” (2016); and “OK/LA” (2020-21). As chief curator, he reinstalled 40,000 square feet of exhibition space in 2019, presenting a new thematic and chronological layout of the museum’s collections. Dr. White successfully applied for major exhibition development grants from the Henry Luce Foundation, National Endowment for the Arts, and Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, among others. In 2016, he secured a $750,000 award from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to support programs furthering the study of Native American art at the FJJMA and the OU School of Visual Arts.
Dr. White’s publications include Oklahoma Moderne: The Art and Design of Olinka Hrdy (FJJMA, 2007); Mediterranea: American Art from the Graham D. Williford Collection (FJJMA, 2010); and Macrocosm/Microcosm: Abstract Expressionism in the American Southwest (FJJMA, 2014). He has also published several journal articles and essays in books and catalogues including A Keener Perception: Ecocritical Studies in American Art History (University of Alabama Press, 2009); Charlie Russell and Friends (Petrie Institute of Western American Art and Denver Art Museum, 2010); Bruce Goff: A Creative Mind (FJJMA, 2010); The Eugene B. Adkins Collection: Selected Works (University of Oklahoma Press, 2011); Art Interrupted: Advancing American Art and the Politics of Cultural Diplomacy (Georgia Museum of Art, 2012); A World Unconquered: The Art of Oscar Brousse Jacobson (FJJMA, 2015); Picturing Indian Territory, 1819-1907 (University of Oklahoma Press, 2016); Renegades: Bruce Goff and the American School of Architecture (University of Oklahoma Press, 2020) and OK/LA (FJJMA, 2020). He has presented public lectures at prestigious venues including the Art Institute of Chicago and the National Gallery of Art and papers at major conferences such as those of the American Studies Association and the College Art Association.
Dr. White kindly provided responses by email to some interview questions.
Briefly describe your career path from graduate school to your current position – and your motivation to follow that path.
I have spent the majority of my career in museums apart from an eight-year stint in academia at Oklahoma State University. Against the advice of many concerned friends, I decided to leave behind my tenured position at OSU in 2009 to serve as the Eugene B. Adkins Curator of the Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art at the University of Oklahoma. I remained there for eleven years and was named the Wylodean and Bill Saxon Director in 2015. I made another questionable decision to take the position of Executive Director of the New Mexico Museum of Art in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic!
Museums always seemed like the appropriate career path for me not only because I enjoy working with objects but also because I felt as though I could serve the public far more effectively. My scholarship has a broader audience through exhibition and related publications.
What was the most important thing you learned as a graduate student that helped prepare you for your career?
I learned a number of important things, but I would have to say learning to write effectively has served me well. The faculty were great mentors in this respect
What advice do you have for today's undergraduate and graduate students regardless of their career aspirations?
It is tempting to want to specialize as much as possible but having the breadth of a generalist can serve you just as effectively. Having a comprehensive understanding of the history of art not only makes you a better art historian but also makes you more marketable in a field where there are more opportunities for generalists.
What is the biggest adjustment that one has to make in transitioning from life as a graduate student to a working as a full-time professional?
You spend much of your graduate career working creatively but, as a professional, administrative duties threaten to consume a disproportionate amount of time. Allocating time for creative endeavors and for leisure time is essential.
How has your field changed since you started working in it?
The museum field has changed immensely since 1999. In recent years, social engagement has been the trend, and numerous museums have broadened their programming well beyond their core educational mission. With the pandemic, that model is no longer viable, at least for the foreseeable future, so greater emphasis has been placed on digital outreach. Although digital platforms can increase audience, nothing can replace the direct experience of works of art.
What has been your greatest professional challenge?
As a museum director, I work with a diverse constituency, and navigating the respective interests and concerns can be difficult, even though public relations and diplomacy are always at the forefront of my practice.
What do you consider to be your one or two greatest professional accomplishments, and why?
During my tenure at the Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art, I developed a number of projects on the art history of Oklahoma, an area where little scholarship existed until recently. Prior to my relocation to New Mexico, I organized the exhibition OK/LA, which features six Oklahoma expatriates who achieved national and international recognition: Patrick Blackwell, Joe Goode, Jerry McMillan, Ed Ruscha, Paul Ruscha, and Mason Williams. It was really satisfying to work directly with all of the artists to explore both their lifelong relationships and the ways in which those relationships and their Oklahoma background informed their respective careers.
I also consider it a great accomplishment to be appointed the next Executive Director of the New Mexico Museum of Art. It is a storied institution, and I look forward to working with staff and supporters to develop a vision for the museum.