Art historian and non-profit executive Maxwell L. Anderson is the author of dozens of publications, including Pompeian Frescoes in The Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York, 1987), and The Quality Instinct: Seeing Art Through a Museum Director’s Eye (American Alliance of Museums, 2012). His most recent book is Antiquities: What Everyone Needs to Know (Oxford University Press, 2016).
His background in the field of antiquities includes seven years as a curator in the Department of Greek and Roman Art at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, teaching positions in the field of Roman art history at the University of Rome II, Princeton University, and Emory University, and nearly three decades as an art museum director.
In 2002, while President of the Association of Art Museum Directors, he announced the formation of a Task Force on Archaeological Materials & Ancient Art, which he chaired for the better part of a decade.
Anderson has devoted his career to advancing the mission of non-profit cultural institutions, while creating best practices to insure their development and sustainability. He has long sought to address challenges facing the cultural sector, from community engagement to programmatic relevance, transparent business practices, cultural property ownership disputes, operational efficiency, and the impact of digital platforms on communications. Throughout almost 30 years as an art museum director, he assisted mayors and city governments in improving their cities through the provision of vibrant cultural offerings.
He currently serves as president of the Souls Grown Deep Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to documenting, preserving, and promoting the work of leading contemporary African American artists from the Southeastern United States. The Foundation derives its name from a 1921 poem by Langston Hughes (1902-67) titled The Negro Speaks of Rivers, the last line of which is "My soul has grown deep like the rivers." Its mission is to include their contributions in the canon of American art history through acquisitions from the Foundation's collection by major museums, as well as through exhibitions, programs, and publications. Anderson's involvement with the collection of the Souls Grown Deep Foundation dates back to his first museum directorship at Emory University''s Carlos Museum beginning in 1987.
The Foundation’s holdings are extensive, with over 1,200 works by more than 160 artists, two-thirds of whom are women. Among the artists represented are Thornton Dial, Lonnie Holley, Mary T. Smith, Joe Minter, Nellie Mae Rowe, Purvis Young, Emmer Sewell, Ronald Lockett, Joe Light, and the quiltmakers of Gee’s Bend. The Foundation’s collection is an essential resource for students, scholars, and the public alike. From 2012-2015, the Foundation donated its archive of over 20,000 documentary photographs, videos, audio recordings, oral histories, and other material related to the artists in the collection to the Southern Folklife Collection at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.
In November 2014 the Metropolitan Museum of Art acquired 57 works from the Foundation’s collection, including major works by Thornton Dial, Lonnie Holley, and Nellie Mae Rowe, and twenty important quilts dating from the 1930s to 2003 created by women in Gee’s Bend, Alabama. In February 2017, the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco acquired 62 works by 22 artists from the Foundation, Including Thornton Dial, Lonnie Holly, Mary T. Smith, Joe Minter, and Gee’s Bend Quiltmakers Annie Mae Young and Jessie T. Pettway. The High Museum of Art in Atlanta followed with the acquisition of 54 works in April 2017, along with the New Orleans Museum of Art in July 2017. The Foundation is at work to transfer hundreds more works to multiple museums in the coming years.
Since 2012 he has also served as a Trustee of the NewCities Foundation, and Chairman of its affiliated organization, the Global Cultural Districts Network. From 2015-17 Anderson simultaneously led NewCities’s professional staff around the world as its Executive Director to address the urgent and important needs of cities on every continent.
From 1987 to 2015, Anderson directed art museums in five North American cities: Atlanta, Toronto, New York, Indianapolis, and Dallas.
In 1988 as director of the Michael C. Carlos Museum at Emory University in Atlanta (1987-1995), he inaugurated a series of loan projects highlighting unpublished treasures from the storerooms of some of the world’s leading museums in London, Paris, Rome, Mexico City, and elsewhere, looking for alternatives to buying antiquities from the illicit trade, expanded the Museum with architect Michael Graves, and greatly enlarged the permanent collection.
During his directorship at Toronto’s Art Gallery of Ontario (1995-1998), he led the creation of a national exhibition indemnity program, restituted five 17th-century Italian drawings to the Berlin State Museums, which had been looted during the Second World War, initiated the illustrated web-based publication of the museum’s collections, made significant acquisitions of European and Canadian art, and organized numerous exhibitions including The Courtauld Collection, one of the Gallery's five best-attended exhibitions in its history.
As director of the Whitney Museum of American Art (1998-2003) he opened the museum six days a week instead of five, initiated the first multinational art purchase, a work by Bill Viola today jointly owned by the Whitney Museum, the Pompidou, and the Tate, to cope with the large scale of many contemporary artworks in variable media, and created a seat for an artist on the Board of Trustees, with Chuck Close as its first incumbent. He established the Museum's first conservation program, introduced new media and architecture as collecting and programming areas, established an M.A. program in curatorial studies with Columbia University, and grew attendance to some 670,000 annually.
He has long championed the rights of artists to receive fair tax treatment when donating works of art to museums. Shortly after the attacks of September 11th, as chair of its Art Issues Committee, he introduced a successful motion at the Association of Art Museum Directors to forego terrorism insurance, helping assure that U.S. and international loan exhibitions could continue uninterrupted. Four months before the onset of hostilities in Iraq, in November 2002, he co-authored an op-ed piece in The Washington Post warning against looting of museums and destruction of sites in the event of an invasion, and helped lead a delegation to the Pentagon to press the case. His seminal 2004 essay for the Getty Leadership Institute, titled “Metrics of Success for Art Museums,” was called an “influential broadside” regarding the proper evaluation of museum performance by The Washington Post.
In 2006, as The Melvin & Bren Simon Director and CEO of the Indianapolis Museum of Art, he advocated transparency in museum practice through a Dashboard chronicling real-time performance measures as well as complete documentation of and rationale for the deaccessioning of artworks, including posting valuations of prospective sales prior to placing objects in the art market. In 2007 he urged U.S. art museums to adopt 1970 as a bright line when considering acquisitions of archaeological material and ancient art, and helped lead the Association of Art Museum Directors to that standard in 2008. That same year Anderson joined a lawsuit against every prosecutor in the State of Indiana to strike down a statute abridging freedom of expression. In 2008 IMA was the first museum to be conferred Energy Star by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Energy, an award recognizing products and businesses for utilizing energy efficient products and practices. The IMA was then awarded the 2009 National Medal for Museum and Library Service, the nation’s highest honor for museums and libraries, presented by First Lady Michelle Obama.
In 2010, he advocated the relaxation of environmental control standards in art museums to save energy and reduce waste. He helped launch two consecutive projects to build international libraries of digital media documenting the collections and activities of art museums—one for still images (AMICO), and one for video (ArtBabble). In 2011 he led the formation of a partnership between the Association of Art Museum Directors and the United Negro College Fund to create a national program incentivizing students of color to enter the art museum profession. That same year the IMA represented the United States at the 54th International Art Exhibition - La Biennale di Venezia, with the exhibition Gloria, presenting works by the collective Allora & Calzadilla.
After being appointed director of the Dallas Museum of Art in the summer of 2011, he launched a program in paintings conservation, added staff and programming dedicated to Islamic art, securing a 15-year renewable loan of the Keir Collection, raised over $40 million for the Museum’s endowment and special projects, made significant additions to the permanent collection, signed memoranda of understanding with Turkey and Italy as part of an art-for-expertise exchange program named DMX, and founded a Laboratory for Museum Innovation with seed capital to develop collaborative pilot projects in the areas of collections access, visitor engagement, and digital publishing. In the fall of 2012 he announced the DMA’s return to a policy of free general admission as well as a novel loyalty program, DMA Friends, today with over 100,000 members. During his directorship, the DMA also embarked on an unprecedented partnership with the University of Texas at Dallas, providing offices and seminar spaces for the newly established Edith O’Donnell Institute of Art History. He stepped down from the Dallas Museum of Art in September 2015 to join the leadership team of the New Cities Foundation.
As chairman of the Dallas Arts District Foundation from 2013-2015, he oversaw the planning and coordination of the largest arts district in the United States. He co-chaired the June 2014 New Cities Summit, which attracted over 800 delegates from 41 nations to the Dallas Arts District for a gathering to improve the future of cities. In the summer of 2014 he oversaw the inaugural US edition of Art Everywhere, arguably the largest public service campaign about art, yielding tens of thousands of outdoor media replicas of American art from five leading art museums.
Anderson received an A.B. from Dartmouth College with highest distinction in art history (1977), and A.M. (1978) and PhD. (1981) degrees in art history from Harvard University. He was decorated as a Commendatore dell’Ordine al Merito della Repubblica Italiana (Knight Commander in the Order of Merit of the Italian Republic) in 1990, and decorated with the rank of Chevalier dans l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres (Knight in the Order of Arts and Letters of the French Republic) in 2010.
Anderson is a research affiliate at the Center for Arts and Cultural Policy Studies at Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs.