Sherri Geldin assumed the directorship of the Wexner Center for the Arts in September 1993, just four years after its inauguration on the campus of The Ohio State University in a distinctive building designed by Peter Eisenman. Something of a bold experiment in the heartland, the contemporary arts center was then the only cultural institution of its kind affiliated with a major research university. It was also one of the first institutions anywhere with a mandate to equally support and present the entire spectrum of creative practice—across the fields of visual art, performance, film, video, architecture, and design, as well as through pioneering education programs. Across her 25 years of leadership, the Wexner Center has emerged among the foremost contemporary art venues in the nation.
From the outset, despite the Wexner Center’s status as a relative “newcomer” and its location outside so-called cultural capitals, Geldin was determined to pursue ambitious and adventurous programming, limited neither by institutional scale and resources or by common preconceptions then attached to campus-based arts museums. In fact, Geldin saw the center’s fundamental creative mandate—combined with the intellectual engine of a research university—as a compelling platform from which to engage the ever-evolving cultural ideas, practices, and debates of our time. Further, she defined the Wex terrain as both local and global, reflecting and serving diverse Columbus communities as well as the wider national and international art world.
In tandem with her pursuit of conceptual and creative rigor across the its artistic presentations, Geldin has resolutely upheld the center’s commitment to a sustained and generous artist residency program, through which the Wexner Center directly supports artists in the research, production, and presentation of new work. By providing financial, intellectual, technical, and moral support, as well as the physical space in which to do their work, the center has become a veritable beacon for artists—a laboratory for contemporary cultural inquiry, production, and discourse—and in the process, something of a model for peer institutions nationally. Throughout the course of her tenure, the Wex also has become known for developing and launching significant curatorial and professional talent into the museum field.
Geldin has worked energetically to reinforce the center’s position as a physical and symbolic portal to Ohio State, enriching the campus experience for thousands of students and faculty by forging successful collaborations with a host of academic departments and student organizations—ranging far beyond the arts and humanities to business, engineering, law, medicine, agriculture, environmental science, and even athletics. Pursuing a steady array of opportunities for students and the general public to hear from (and interact with) figures at the forefront of their respective fields, Geldin initiated and funded a handful of distinguished lecture series featuring illustrious art historians, critics, cultural commentators, and social activists. These include the center’s annual Director’s Dialogue on Art and Social Change, which convenes artists, academics, and recognized experts to explore the ever-more pertinent intersections between art and social justice. These talks and panel discussions address such contested topics as racial discrimination, cultural and gender bias, sexual identity and orientation, criminal justice and mass incarceration, and climate change, among other potent issues.
Early on, Geldin and her team established partnerships with highly respected museums, performing arts centers, and film institutes in this country and abroad—and, of course, with groundbreaking artists around the world. Even a partial list of figures appearing at the Wex over the years is indicative of the center’s commitment to emerging, established, and renowned artists alike.
Geldin initially secured such major exhibitions for the Wex as the Guggenheim Museum’s Roy Lichtenstein retrospective in 1995 and Hall of Mirrors: Art and Film Since 1945, from The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (LA MoCA) in 1997. On the occasion of the Wexner Center’s 10th anniversary in 1999, Geldin cocurated the exhibition Julie Taymor: Playing with Fire, which went on to tour the country. In 2001 the center organized As Painting: Division and Displacement (still a touchstone exhibition for many artists and scholars), and in 2002 the Wex presented Mood River, a vibrant kaleidoscopic look at design in every conceivable guise, from aeronautic to automotive to athletic. The exhibition included a fully operational skate bowl that drew thousands of avid young boarders—as well as a segment on CBS Sunday Morning.
From 2002 to 2005, Geldin oversaw a complex $15 million renovation of the Wexner Center to ensure museum-industry standards for light and climate control. During this period, she took the Wex out into the community, securing spaces and mounting exhibitions and public programs around town. She then procured and oversaw a major William Wegman exhibition in 2007 (a touring presentation that made its only Midwestern stop in Columbus) and Andy Warhol: Other Voices, Other Rooms in 2008, which garnered national attention as the only US stop for this ambitious, sweeping look at Warhol’s multimedia work.
In 2009, the Wexner Center jointly organized with the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art the highly acclaimed exhibition Luc Tuymans, which premiered at the Wex before touring internationally. The next year, the Wex organized and toured the first museum survey devoted to Mark Bradford. And in 2012, Geldin negotiated the first-ever exhibition of Annie Leibovitz’s Master Set as well as her Pilgrimage series. For its 25th anniversary in 2014, she orchestrated the center’s most successful exhibition ever, Transfigurations: Modern Masters from the Wexner Family Collection, enlisting guest cocurator Robert Storr to bring fresh art historical perspectives to this exemplary, in-depth array of works by Pablo Picasso, Alberto Giacometti, Jean Dubuffet, and Susan Rothenberg.
More recently the Wex served as the only venue between the coasts for the remarkable exhibition Leap Before You Look: Black Mountain College 1933–1957, as well as for comprehensive surveys of artists Jack Whitten, Noah Purifoy, and Martin Wong. And with clear intent, during calendar year 2017, every artist on view in the center’s galleries was a woman. These exhibitions include Carmen Herrera: Lines of Sight, organized by the Whitney Museum of American Art; Sarah Oppenheimer S-337473, featuring her ambitious Wexner Center Artist Residency Award commission; Gray Matters, organized by the Wex and including 37 women artists working in all disciplines; and finally, Cindy Sherman: Imitation of Life, organized by the Broad in Los Angeles.
During her tenure, Geldin has nearly tripled the annual operating budget of the center to over $12 million, substantially grown the roster of Wexner Center Foundation trustees (locally and nationally), and garnered over $30 million in endowed funds for the center—including a $1.5 million grant from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, making the Wexner Center the first university-based performing arts program to receive major support from that foundation. In 2009, the center was awarded nearly $800,000 from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation for an expansive, cross-disciplinary project focusing on contemporary art and film made in Brazil. And the Wex has received multiple grants over the years from The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts and other respected national foundations, as well as from the National Endowment for the Arts, Institute of Museum and Library Services, among others.
Geldin served for nine years as a trustee of the Warhol Foundation, including two years as chair. She is a member of the Association of Art Museum Directors and has served on panels across the country, including The American Assembly at Columbia University, Pew Charitable Trusts, and Yale University’s presidentially appointed Council on the School of Art.
In 2006, Geldin was named Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the French Cultural Ministry in Paris, an honor created by the French government in 1957 to recognize individuals who have demonstrated a commitment to furthering the arts around the world. In 2013, on the occasion of her 20th anniversary as Director, the Wexner Center Foundation’s Board of Trustees created the Sherri Geldin Innovation Fund, a new endowment to support creative experimentation and production. In May 2014, she was honored with the Ohio Governor’s Award for the Arts as the foremost arts administrator in the state, and in September of that same year, the Wexner Center was honored by The Columbus Foundation as the outstanding nonprofit organization of the year.
Geldin embarked on her career in the arts just after completing her graduate degree, when she was fortuitously invited to serve on an advisory committee convened by Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley to imagine a modern/contemporary art museum for Los Angeles. In just a few months, she became the first staff member of what would become LA MoCA. And within three years, she became its Associate Director where, for more than a decade, she played an integral role in the artistic, curatorial, educational, administrative, and financial growth of that institution. She worked closely with the museum’s Artist Advisory Council, and with both Frank Gehry and Arata Isozaki on planning and design for The Temporary Contemporary and for LA MoCA’s new building, respectively.
Geldin received her bachelor of arts degree in art history at the University of California, Los Angeles, where she studied under T. J. Clark and graduated Phi Beta Kappa and summa cum laude. Before pursuing a graduate degree, she served as one of just two full-time staff members of the then-fledgling Southern California Institute of Architecture (SCI-Arc). Geldin subsequently earned an MBA with a specialization in Arts Management, also from UCLA, during which time she fulfilled a six-month internship at the (then) quite new Cooper Hewitt Museum in New York.
Updated April 2018
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