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Smithsonian’s Rifkin awarded Syracuse University’s Arents Pioneer Medal
Smithsonian’s Rifkin awarded Syracuse University’s Arents Pioneer MedalOctober 31, 2006Cynthia J. Moritzcjmoritz@syr.edu
Ned Rifkin ’72, undersecretary for art at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., was honored Oct. 26 at a special dinner at Washington’s Meridian House, where he was awarded Syracuse University’s George Arents Pioneer Medal. The Arents Award is the highest alumni award the University bestows.
Among those present to honor Rifkin were Edward Hirsch, president of the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation; Glenn D. Lowry, director of The Museum of Modern Art in New York City; Nancy Cantor, SU chancellor and president; Cathryn R. Newton, dean of SU’s College of Arts and Sciences; and Neil A. Gold ’70, president of the Syracuse University Alumni Association.
“Ned has worked throughout his distinguished career to make art more accessible to all of us,” says Cantor. “He is the perfect person to oversee the Smithsonian’s numerous galleries and extensive art collection. We are proud that he began his art education at Syracuse University.”
Rifkin first came to SU in the fall of 1967 and played basketball. After knee surgery at the close of his freshman year, he enrolled in the Arts and Ideas course, which was taught by celebrated author William Fleming. Fleming became Rifkin’s mentor. Rifkin earned his bachelor’s degree in fine arts and went on to earn master’s and doctoral degrees in art history at the University of Michigan.
Rifkin has served with several significant art institutions, including the New Museum of Contemporary Art in New York City, the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., the High Museum of Art in Atlanta and the Menil Collection and Foundation in Houston. He was chief curator of the Smithsonian’s Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden from 1986-91 and served as its third director from 2001-05.
As undersecretary for art at the Smithsonian, Rifkin oversees the Hirshhorn, the National Museum of African Art, the National Portrait Gallery, the Archives of American Art, the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum and the Smithsonian American Art Museum, as well as the Renwick Gallery and the Smithsonian Photography Initiative.
The Arents Medal is named for George Arents, former chairman of SU’s Board of Trustees. In 1939, Arents endowed a fund to provide for the Arents Pioneer Medals to be awarded annually.