Richard Aste, an art historian and curator from the Brooklyn Museum in New York, has been selected by the McNay Art Museum to serve as its third director following the announced retirement of longtime Director William J. Chiego. Aste, a native of Peru with a doctorate of philosophy, art history, criticism and conservation from City University of New York, will start Sept. 12.

Aste has served as managing curator, Arts of the Americas and Europe, and curator of European Art at the Brooklyn Museum.

As former associate curator of European Art at the Museo de Arte de Ponce in Puerto Rico, Aste organized temporary exhibitions on Auguste Rodin and Impressionist landscapes and reinstalled the European collection. More recently, at the Brooklyn Museum, he expanded and redefined the European collection through strategic acquisitions and well received exhibitions geared toward growing public engagement with its artworks.

McNay officials described the coming transition as a seamless one. Chiego, who holds a doctorate in the history of art from Case Western Reserve University, announced his plan to retire last year and he welcomes Aste’s selection as his successor.

“I have been following The McNay and its collection since I was a graduate student in the 1990s,” Aste told the Rivard Report. “I’ve been in this field for over 20 years. When I stand before some of these works, their beauty still takes my breath away.”

"Miro: The Experience of Seeing" at The McNay Museum of Art, September 2015. Photo by Page Graham.
“Miro: The Experience of Seeing” at The McNay Art Museum. Photo by Page Graham.

Aste was born in Lima, Peru to Bolivian and Peruvian parents of Italian and German descent. He was raised in Miami and is fluent in Spanish. His global perspective was evident during his years at the Museo de Arte de Ponce, where he combined European and Latin American culture in his curatorial practice. His recent exhibitions at the Brooklyn Museum highlighted the connections between Europe and the Americas, including the Caribbean, since the late 1400s.

“I am committed to reminding visitors that these continents are connected, with people, influences, and ideas traveling over time,” Aste said. “This is a personal story for me. I am European by heritage, Latin American by birth, and American by residence and upbringing.”

“Rich is an experienced and imaginative curator/administrator with an ability to relate a museum to its community. I look forward to seeing him build successfully on our accomplishments at The McNay over the past 25 years,” Chiego stated in a press release. “I had the pleasure of meeting him when The McNay showed the Brooklyn Museum’s exhibition Landscapes from the Age of Impressionism in 2010 and he came to the museum. We met again in 2012 when he gave me a tour of Brooklyn’s American and European collections.”

Aste received his undergraduate degree in psychology from the University of Michigan. Once he discovered his passion for art, he went on to earn a graduate degree in art history from Hunter College in New York. Aste’s graduate work focused on the Italian Renaissance. He spent two years conducting dissertation research in Florence, Italy. He then taught art history at Hunter College and worked as an Old Master specialist at Christie’s in New York, London, and Rome as well as an art sales associate at Wildenstein & Co. He later received his doctorate from CUNY, and is a 2016 fellow of the Center for Curatorial Leadership.

Aste assumed his first full-time curatorial role as associate curator of European Art at the Museo de Arte de Ponce, where he co-curated the exhibitions El Greco to Goya: Masterpieces of Spanish Painting from the Prado, The Journey to Impressionism, Masterpieces of European Painting from Museo de Arte de Ponce, and The Age of Rodin.

“A former governor of Puerto Rico founded the Museo de Arte de Ponce and its collection of European art and sculpture so Puerto Ricans who could not afford to travel to Europe could experience great European works of art,” Aste said. “My vision for the Ponce (Museum) was to help create educational bridges to the European collection with connections to Latin America and the Caribbean and the broader definition of heritage.”

In 2010 he joined the Brooklyn Museum, where his global, transatlantic approach to the arts of Europe and Latin America informed the exhibitions Impressionism and the Caribbean: Francisco Oller and His Transatlantic World, which was awarded a grant from the National Endowment of the Arts; and Behind Closed Doors: Art in the Spanish American Home, 1492–1898, which received a major grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

“The board members at the Brooklyn Museum fully supported my vision to take its European collection to the Americas and the Caribbean,” Aste explained. “We were able to explore the reach of the Spanish empire far beyond its borders.”

“Rich stood out from numerous candidates as someone who has the energy, optimism, and entrepreneurial drive to lead The McNay into the future,” Shon Manasco, McNay trustee and chair of the transition committee stated in a press release. “He is a civic-minded individual whose background makes him an ideal cultural leader for a city like San Antonio. We have confidence he will invest the time and energy to engage with San Antonio’s diverse audiences. He will be instrumental in not only shaping the future of The McNay, but of San Antonio.”

Aste is looking forward to settling into his new home in San Antonio and to establishing collaborative partnerships, as he strives to show The McNay’s place in the broader continuum of art, culture, and history.

“I think Marion (Koogler) McNay’s purchase of Diego Rivera’s Portrait of a Young Girl is a telling one, one that is a point of entry for visitors as this piece is part of a larger global story.”

Aste had been working closely with The McNay for the past couple of years on a forthcoming exhibition from the Brooklyn Museum. San Antonio will get to see Aste’s curated exhibition from the Brooklyn Museum, French Moderns: Monet to Matisse, 1850-1950 in the spring of 2017 at The McNay.

His first exhibition as director of The McNay will focus on Paris as the artistic center of international modernism and bring paintings and sculptures from the Brooklyn’s permanent collection by artists such as Paul Cézanne, Marc Chagall, Edgar Degas, Henri Matisse, Claude Monet, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, and Auguste Rodin, among others.

“Bill (Chiego) is one of the reasons why I’ve been so interested in The McNay and his vision of making The McNay accessible to all its visitors resonates with my core values,” Aste emphasized. “I’m interesting in ‘backdating globalization’ by using The McNay’s collection to show how the world was interconnected long before the advent of the internet.”

Director William J. Chiego stands in front of the chalkboard covered with messages of farewell at the McNay Art Museum. Photo by Michael Cirlos.
Former Director of The McNay Art Museum William J. Chiego stands in front of the chalkboard covered with messages of farewell. Photo by Michael Cirlos.

Top image: Dr. Richard Aste, an art historian and curator from the Brooklyn Museum, will be the new director of The McNay Museum Sept. 12. Photo credit: Scott Ball.


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Iris Gonzalez writes about technology, life science and veteran affairs.