Arts Desk

Martin Sullivan, Former National Portrait Gallery Director, Dies at 70

martin-sullivanFormer National Portrait Gallery director Martin Sullivan has died, the Associated Press reports.

During Sullivan's tenure as director, the museum extended the purview of its commissioned portraits beyond those of American presidents and first ladies to include such figures as Eunice Kennedy Shriver and Alice Waters. Perhaps more importantly, under Sullivan's leadership, the National Portrait Gallery expanded the range of its exhibitions. “Gertrude Stein: Five Stories,” “The Black List: Photographs by Timothy Greenfield-Sanders," “Portraiture Now: Asian American Portraits of Encounter," and the groundbreaking "Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture" exhibit all took place under Sullivan's watch.

It was during the run of "Hide/Seek" that one of the most notorious episodes in the history of the Smithsonian Institution took place: the decision by Secretary of the Smithsonian G. Wayne Clough to censor an artwork by artist David Wojnarowicz on display in "Hide/Seek."

Sullivan was named as the winner of the American Alliance of Museums 2014 Award for Distinguished Service to Museums, according to a release from the Smithsonian. The honor will be presented to his family. In 2006, Sullivan joined the Centennial Honor Roll of the American Association of Museums, in recognition for his work as the director of the Heard Museum in Phoenix and as director of the New York State Museum in Albany, N.Y.

The AP reports that Sullivan, who died in his home in Piney Point, Md., was 70.

Photo courtesy the Smithsonian

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  1. #1

    Mr. Sullivan was highly regarded in Indian Country nationwide for his instrumental efforts to work with tribal leaders and traditional religious practitioners in the passage of the Native American Graves and Protection Act (NAGPRA) in 1999. With the passage of NAGPRA, it allowed for Indigenous Nations to obtain the return of their ancestors' remains and religious sacred materials housed in federal institutions throughout the U.S. He was a giving person, respectful of others and a joy to work with in the museum profession. His spirit lives on!

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