The Department of Art and Art History mourns the loss of our friend and colleague, Bill Agee.  Bill taught at Hunter for nearly a quarter-century, from 1990, when he was hired as a full professor in Modern American Art, until his retirement in 2014.  He was named the Evelyn Kranes Kossak Chair in Art History in 2004. 

By the time Bill came to Hunter he had already had at least two full careers.  Just out of the program in Art History at Yale, he worked for the Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art, directing research on the New Deal and the arts.  He joined the Whitney Museum of American Art as Associate Curator in 1966, where he organized one-person exhibitions of Donald Judd and Conrad Marca-Relli, and curated the lauded and controversial exhibition The 1930s: Painting and Sculpture in America.  He served briefly as Associate Curator of Painting and Sculpture at the Museum of Modern Art before being appointed as Director of Exhibitions and Collections at the Pasadena Art Museum in1971.  Just 34 at the time he elevated to the full directorship at Pasadena, he was one of the youngest museum leaders in the United States.  After Pasadena, Bill would go on to serve as Director of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, from 1974 to 1982. 

After stepping down from the MFA Houston, Bill worked as an independent curator, organizing monographic exhibitions and publishing on key figures of American Modernism, including Ralston Crawford, Stuart Davis, Arthur Dove, Sam Francis, Stanton Macdonald-Wright, Kenneth Noland, and Morgan Russell. He also turned his lens on less familiar artists.  While at Hunter, Bill helped to organize two important traveling exhibitions of American art for the Addison Gallery at Phillips Academy in Andover, MA, where he had gone to high school and where he discovered his calling: Coming of Age: American Art, 1850s to 1950s (2006) and American Vanguards: Graham, Davis, Gorky, de Kooning, and Their Circle, 1927-1942 (2011).  After he retirement, he published the survey Modern Art in America 1908-68 (2016), which the Wall Street Journal called “that rarity of rarities, an opinionated but not eccentric scholarly history by a veteran museum curator whose every page crackles with original thinking and bears the stamp of a preternaturally sharp eye.”   ―The Wall Street Journal

Bill Agee brought that sharp eye and his original thinking to Hunter, and helped to shape the vision and careers of a generation of Hunter Art History students.  His long curatorial experience and the insights he gained by working with closely with works of art fed his teaching, and his approach helped to center the idea of exhibition-making as a crucial aspect of art historical research. It is part of Bill’s legacy that curatorial practice remains integral to the teaching of Art History at Hunter.  Among the exhibitions Bill realized here at Hunter with his students were Ray Parker: A Retrospective Exhibition (1990); Fairfield Porter: Paintings (1992); Paths of Abstraction: Painting in New York 1944-1981 (1994); and Tony Smith’s Tau (2004).

He will be missed.

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