Wiles ’81 Takes Helm at Johnson Museum – Hobart and William Smith Colleges \
The HWS Update

Wiles ’81 Takes Helm at Johnson Museum

Stephanie Wiles ’81 was recently profiled in the Ithaca Times for her new role as director of the Johnson Museum of Art at Cornell. She was most recently director of the Allen Memorial Art Museum at Oberlin College, Ohio.

“She has spent her entire professional career in art museums, emerging from Hobart and William Smith Colleges with a bachelor’s degree in modern languages and heading directly into a job at the Morgan Library and Museum in New York City, where she spent 17 years in the Department of Drawings and Prints before moving on to the Davison Art Center at Wesleyan College. She is a specialist in American and British drawings and prints with a focus on the 19th century,” the article said.

“It’s an opportunity to work with original works of art every day. Students still feel this in the day of digital technology; there is still that immediacy of being in the presence of the real thing. It still touches us, the visual connection to the human condition that can’t be reproduced in other ways,” Wiles said explaining what she enjoys about museum work.

Wiles earned her B.A. in modern languages from William Smith College. She went on to earn a master’s degree and Ph.D. from the Graduate Center of the City University of New York.

The full article follows.


Ithaca Times
Speakeasy: Stephanie Wiles takes over at the Johnson Museum

Bill Chaisson • January 11, 2012

Earlier this winter Stephanie Wiles succeeded Frank Robinson as director of the Johnson Museum of Art at Cornell. Wiles had been director of the Allen Memorial Art Museum at Oberlin College in Ohio for the past seven and a half years.
She has spent her entire professional career in art museums, emerging from Hobart and William Smith Colleges with a bachelor’s degree in modern languages and heading directly into a job at the Morgan Library and Museum in New York City, where she spent 17 years in the Department of Drawings and Prints before moving on to the Davison Art Center at Wesleyan College. She is a specialist in American and British drawings and prints with a focus on the 19th century.

Ithaca Times: Why did you leave the Morgan Library for Wesleyan?

Stephanie Wiles: I wanted to make the change to an academic setting to connect with the curriculum, to be at a museum that is embedded into the fabric of a college or university community … I was at Wesleyan for six years and learned to love the college setting. I also learned to teach there. I taught a course on the history of photography and one on prints. I actually finished my dissertation while I was Wesleyan.

IT: How and why did you make the transition from being a modern languages major to working in an art museum?
SW: By the time I was a senior [at Hobart and William Smith] I had been to Vienna. I fell in love with the Brueghels there and realized that I wanted to study art. I got a temp job at the Morgan after college and took art classes at Hunter [College] to catch up. I worked at the Morgan and did graduate work at the same time; I got my master’s degree and Ph.D. from the Graduate Center of the City University of New York.

IT: What is the attraction of museum work?
SW: It’s an opportunity to work with original works of art every day. Students still feel this in the day of digital technology; there is still that immediacy of being in the presence of the real thing. It still touches us, the visual connection to the human condition that can’t be reproduced in other ways.

IT: What is the function of a museum?
SW: Our mission is to make the connections between disciplines, to show how art is part of a larger cultural context. We try to interpret and present things, but it’s really about that personal connection. Academic museums can do this more freely and more experimentally than free-standing museums can.

IT: What is your role as the director of an art museum?
SW: Here at the Johnson I have really great colleagues; it’s really collaborative. They’ve all been in the field for a long time. We’re always looking for new ideas, how to make connections with the political and social issues. We want to lead people through culture into history. We figure out how to put together exhibitions and make them relevant. We also develop partnerships with other museums, not just sharing artwork, but research relationships. Frank [Robinson] did this for 19 years.

IT: Frank Robinson was a prime mover behind getting the addition built. Now that it’s in place, how does that affect the museum’s operation?

SW: It expanded the exhibition space, but it has also led us to think differently about the space. For example, we now have a video gallery that is actually spacious. The creation of the new study areas was the driving force of the new addition, and it freed up some space in the old building. We now have the opportunity to experience the collections in new ways. Technology is also making museums think differently and innovate. [Wiles mentioned that tours of the Johnson that are downloadable to iPads will be available soon.] We’re training the next generation about museums. They can be flexible, and you can work them into your life.

Lines of Control, the first of several new exhibitions, will open on January 21: “More than forty works of video, prints, photographs, paintings, sculpture, and installation by international artists delve into the past and explore the present to expose the seductive simplicity of drawing lines as a substitute for learning how to live with each other.”