Michael  Brenson

Michael Brenson

Fellow: Awarded 2008

Field of Study: Biography

Competition: US & Canada

Website: http://www.design.upenn.edu/new/finar/facultybio.php?fid=353

Michael Brenson is an art historian, critic, and curator, who is currently a faculty member in sculpture at Bard College's Center for Curatorial Studies and Milton Avery Graduate School of the Arts, the only nonartist among MFA faculty members there.  He was also the only nonartist appointed as Interdisciplinary Artist-in-residence at the University of Wisconsin Arts Institute (2004). He is also currently a visiting senior critic at the University of Pennsylvania's School of Design.

His father was Theodore Brenson, a Latvian-born printmaker who, on his escape to New York City in 1941, became an abstract painter and eventually the head of the art department at Douglas College. Naturally Michael Brenson was steeped from childhood in abstract expressionism and European and American modernism, art history in general,  and discussions of the relation of the artist and his work to society. 

While  studying creative writing (M.A., 1969) and  art history (Ph.D., 1974) at Johns Hopkins University, Michael Brenson became fascinated by sculpture, and wrote his doctoral dissertation on the Swiss scuptor-painter Alberto Giacometti.  It was during the course of his dissertation research that he became familiar with American sculptor David Smith, who had been strongly influenced by Giacometti.  His biography of Smith, which he undertook during his Guggenheim fellowship term, is to be published by Farrar, Straus, and Giroux. Smith himself was a Guggenheim Fellow in sculpture in 1950 and 1951.

After completing his doctoral work, he moved to Paris where his position at the American School quickly gave way to his vocation as an art critic.  He wrote for the International Herald Tribune,  Art in America, and  the New York Times, before the latter brought him back to New York in 1982 as an art writer, a position he held for nine years.

On leaving the New York Times, Mr. Brenson has continued writing art criticism and lecturing widely at such institutions as the Art Institute of Chicago, the Denver Art Museum, the Getty Research Institute, the Museum of Modern Art in New York City and in San Francisco, the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden  in Washinton, D.C., among many others.  In addition he has curated five exhibitions, including Magdalena Abakanowicz: "War Games" at P.S. 1 in 1993, which Peter Plagens, writing in Artforum, honored as one of the top ten shows of the decade.

Michael Brenson has been on the editorial board of Art Journal (1993-99) and on the board of Creative Time (1999 to 2005).  Currently he is on the advisory board of Sculpture magazine (since 1992) and has been on the board of the Alberto and Annette Giacometti Foundation in Paris since its establishment in 2003.