Allison Kemmerer was named the permanent director of the Addison Gallery of American Art on Thursday, following a two-year stint as interim director.
Kemmerer took over as interim director of the Andover gallery, situated on the campus of the Phillips Academy residential high school, in December 2019, following the departure of director Judith F. Dolkart. Since then, Kemmerer has straddled her post as interim director with her existing position as curator of photography and contemporary art. She will assume the permanent director position on Dec. 1.
Initially, Kemmerer, who began her work with the gallery in 1992 as an intern while in graduate school at Boston University, wasn’t interested in taking up the director position permanently.
“I just love curating, and in my mind, the position of director involves a lot of administration and things that take you away from directly interacting with artists and art,” said Kemmerer, who served as acting director of the Boston University Art Gallery before coming to the Addison. “Having the luxury of trying it out for two years — which really was a rare opportunity — I realized I can do it, and I think I can be pretty good at it.”
The Addison, founded in 1931, has a collection of more than 23,000 works by historical and contemporary American artists, including Georgia O’Keeffe, Jackson Pollock, and Cindy Sherman. The gallery is free and open to the public.
Kemmerer, who curated the “Mel Kendrick: Seeing Things in Things” show earlier this year, said she intends to work on diversifying the Addison’s collection. She added that the gallery has recently acquired a number of pieces by artists of color, including Stanley Whitney and Carrie Mae Weems.
“We’ve been asking this question, what is America?” said Kemmerer, 57. “The goal has been to broaden the conversation, expand the narrative to include as many voices and viewpoints that we can.”
She also hopes to expand the teaching gallery’s Edward E. Elson artist-in-residence program, which invites three to four artists a year to campus to engage with the Phillips Academy students and other community members. In the next year or so, she said, the gallery will launch a new annual initiative that would offer one artist-in-residence yet to have a museum show their first show, a publication, and their first museum acquisition.
“She managed to lead the gallery through this extraordinary challenge of the pandemic, while at the same time continuing to mount new exhibits, new shows, new presentations and expand our collections,” said Raynard Kington, head of school at the Phillips Academy, who appointed Kemmerer to the director role. “She has the breadth of experience, both in terms of experience as a leader and running the Addison Gallery, but also her expertise in the collection.”
First on her to-do list is opening the “Light, Space, Surface: Works from the Los Angeles County Museum of Art” exhibition on Nov. 23, which will feature the works of Southern California artists from the 1960s and 1970s. The opening will offer her the opportunity to celebrate her tenure with the community.
Though the gallery has projects scheduled well into 2025, Kemmerer said, its modest size lends itself well to a “balance of careful planning and nimble spontaneity, so that the place feels alive.” There are no permanent exhibitions at the gallery, allowing them to “adapt to whatever’s going on in the world.”
“We have this freedom to be experimental — it’s almost like a laboratory,” said Kemmerer, who has been in touch with five former Addison directors. “Everyone is encouraging me to keep that going, which I’m all for.”