Kirk Varnedoe  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

J. Kirk T. Varnedoe (19462003) was an American art historian and writer, a Professor of the History of Art at the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton, and a noted curator of painting and sculpture at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York City. He studied at St. Andrew's School and Williams College.

After his years at Williams, he went to Paris, where he became expert on Auguste Rodin's drawings, and fell in love with French culture and civilization. He returned to America and particularly to New York, where he married the artist Elyn Zimmerman and taught art history, first at Columbia University, and then at New York University's Institute of Fine Arts.

He co-curated, with William Rubin, the exhibition "Primitivism: Affinity Between The Tribal and The Modern" at the Museum of Modern Art in 1984, the same year that he won a MacArthur Fellowship. In 1988, he became the Chief Curator of Painting and Sculpture at MoMa, where his exhibitions included "High And Low: Modern Art and Popular Culture" (co-directed with the writer Adam Gopnik) as well as retrospectives of the work of Cy Twombly, Jasper Johns and Jackson Pollock.

He was famous as one of the most eloquent public speakers of his time, and he gave many lectures and lecture series, including the Slade Lectures at Oxford and the Mellon Lectures at the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C. These last, his final lecture series, was published in 2006 by Princeton University Press under the title of Pictures of Nothing. He died of cancer. Adam Gopnik, one of his graduate school proteges in the mid-1980's, wrote a tribute in the New Yorker in 2004.

One of Elyn's sculptures was destroyed in the World Trade Center's plaza on September 11, 2001.

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