The San Antonio Museum of Art (SAMA) on Thursday announced the departure of William Keyse Rudolph, its co-interim director, chief curator, and curator of American and European art. Rudolph has accepted the position of deputy director of curatorial affairs at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, Missouri.

With his departure, Rudolph is the second key leader at SAMA to leave in less than five months. In November, Rudolph was appointed co-interim director along with Lisa Tapp, chief financial officer and chief operating officer, after the departure in October of former Executive Director Katie Luber, now director of the Minneapolis Institute of Art.

“This is the chance to work at one of the great encyclopedic art museums in the U.S.,” Rudolph said of the Nelson, which he called “truly one of the finest art museums in this country.”

He cited its globe-spanning collection, including “extraordinary” photography, African art, and “really significant Native American collections, as well as a really robust European collection, including a Caravaggio [painting], which is a holy grail for many art historians.”

SAMA also announced that Emily Sano, senior advisor for Asian art, would replace Rudolph as co-interim director. Sano has previously served as director of the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco. The search for a new executive director is ongoing, with the choice of a search firm expected in mid-March.

Emily Sano, newly appointed co-interim director of the San Antonio Museum of Art, and senior advisor for Asian art. Credit: Courtesy San Antonio Museum of Art

Rudolph said the museum will remain in good hands and expressed confidence in its trajectory. “I want to stress that my departure is in absolutely no way any kind of a referendum on the vitality, success, viability, or wonderfulness of SAMA,” he said.

Rudolph offered effusive praise of his museum colleagues. “I can say with absolute confidence, we have an extraordinary team of employees in every department, in every facet of museum operations, and they know what they’re doing. They know what to do and they love the institution.”

His new position “allows me the chance to continue to do what I did at SAMA, but on a bigger scale in terms of staff size and the addition of a conservation department,” he said.

Rudolph asserted that the move is bittersweet. “I’ve been crying, it’s very bittersweet. I feel like we’ve been really at the top of our game, even during the interim period.”

Rudolph came to SAMA in December 2013 from his former position as director of exhibitions and curator of American art and decorative arts at the Milwaukee Art Museum. During his six years with SAMA, he organized multiple exhibitions, and cites the growth and consistency of the curatorial program as drawing the attention of the Nelson-Atkins search committee.

Rudolph was born in Hickman, Nebraska, about three hours from Kansas City. “The Nelson is one of the first museums I remember visiting as a child,” he said.

“There’s a gypsum sculpture of Horus in the form of a falcon there that I remember from childhood,” Rudolph said. “I was just looking at it a week ago in the gallery and I thought, it’s really amazing when you can say, ‘Wow, I remember seeing this when I was a little kid,’ and now I’m looking at it and worrying about it in a completely different way.”

Rudolph’s last day at SAMA will be March 27, though he will return to help with a decorative arts exhibition he is curating for SAMA’s 40th anniversary, to go on view in summer 2021.

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Nicholas Frank

Senior Reporter Nicholas Frank moved from Milwaukee to San Antonio following a 2017 Artpace residency. Prior to that he taught college fine arts, curated a university contemporary art program, toured with...