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Integrating contexts

By Stephanie Rieke Miller

The U-M Museum of Art.

Joseph Rosa has always felt at home in a community of learners. This deep commitment to advanced thinking and innovation, and to making complex and wide-ranging ideas and themes across disciplines more accessible, has been reflected in a wealth of dynamic scholarship, exhibitions, and publications over the course of his complementary museum and teaching careers.

Joseph Rosa, the Art Institute of Chicago’s chief curator of architecture and design, is the new director of the U-M Museum of Art.

Joseph Rosa, the Art Institute of Chicago’s chief curator of architecture and design, is the new director of the U-M Museum of Art.

Rosa began in July as director of the University of Michigan Museum of Art.

Early on, Rosa’s breadth of interests led him to reclaim the legacy of architect Albert Frey, known for being the first Le Corbusier disciple to settle in the United States and for his mid-century desert aesthetic. His reconsideration of other iconic twentieth-century architects and architectural photographers, including Louis Kahn and Julius Shulman, led him to examine and expand the fungibility of various disciplines and practices—an approach that has informed his work from his directorship at the Columbia University Architecture Galleries to the present.

At the Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh, Rosa’s 2001 exhibition and catalogue Folds, Blobs, and Boxes: Architecture in the Digital Era introduced many to the influence of computers on architecture and design. Richard Armstrong, now Director of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, said of their shared time at the Carnegie, “In Pittsburgh, where I first knew Joe Rosa, he energized a nascent department at a nineteenth-century museum to great effect by championing new architects and architecture in an historically hospitable city that had fallen behind.”

Subsequently, as the Helen Hilton Raiser Curator of Architecture and Design at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA), Rosa was able to address a broader framework and explore how different disciplines fold into each other. Glamour: Fashion, Industrial Design, Architecture, the groundbreaking exhibition that Rosa organized at SFMOMA in 2004, was less about the object than about investigating glamour as a critical category—a powerful and broad concept that cuts across history and contemporary life.

Madeleine Grynsztejn, a former colleague of Rosa’s at the Carnegie and the SFMOMA and now Director of the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, said: “Joe brought the most progressive thinking and most groundbreaking practices in architecture and design. His acquisitions were always among the most interesting and forward looking. What’s also really important to understand about Joe’s work is his interest in those topics that permeate our visual culture; he’s not interested in always keeping within normal parameters.”

Most recently, as the John H. Bryan Curatorial Chair of Architecture and Design at the Art Institute of Chicago (AIC), Rosa oversaw the installation of 8,000 square feet of new gallery space for his expanding department in the new Renzo Piano-designed Modern Wing and as one of four cultural ambassadors to the city of Chicago worked with the community, the mayor’s office, and noted architects Zaha Hadid and Ben van Berkel to realize the bold Burnham Pavilions project in Millennium Park in 2009. Among the ten exhibitions he curated at the AIC was Figuration in Contemporary Design (2007), a look at the reintroduction of the figure in modern design practices.

Jim Cuno, President and Eloise W. Martin Director of the Art Institute of Chicago said of Rosa: “Joe has that rare ability to integrate the local and the immediate with larger contexts and movements, a trait I am certain will be of great value to a university museum. And while Joe’s skills as a curator and a scholar are evident from his exhibitions, books, and articles, equally impressive are his talents as a colleague. UMMA will benefit greatly from Joe’s imagination, intelligence, and drive, and he will bring a great deal both personally and intellectually to the University of Michigan community.”