(Chinese name: 孟璐; Japanese name: アレクサンドラ モンロー)
Alexandra Munroe, Ph.D., is an award-winning curator, Asia scholar, and author focusing on art, culture, and institutional global strategy. Widely recognized as among the most influential curators of her generation, she has produced over 40 exhibitions and published pioneering scholarship on modern and contemporary Asian art. She organized the first major North American retrospectives of artists Yayoi Kusama (1989), Daido Moriyama (1999), Yoko Ono (2000), Mu Xin (2001), Cai Guo-Qiang (2008), and Lee Ufan (2011), among others, and has brought such historic avant-garde movements as Gutai, Mono-ha, and Chinese conceptual art, as well as Japanese otaku culture, to international attention. Her project Japanese Art after 1945: Scream Against the Sky (1994) is recognized for initiating the field of postwar Japanese art history in North America. Recently, Munroe was lead curator of the Guggenheim’s exhibition, Art and China after 1989: Theater of the World (co-organized with Philip Tinari and Hou Hanru), which the New York Times named as one of 2017’s top ten exhibitions and ARTnews named as one of the decade’s top 25 most influential shows. Credited for the far-reaching impact of her exhibitions and scholarship bolstering knowledge of postwar Japanese art history in America and Japan, she received the 2017 Japan Foundation Award and the 2018 Commissioner for Cultural Affairs Award, both bestowed by the government of Japan.
An authority on modern and contemporary Asian art and transnational art studies, Munroe is Senior Curator and Director, Curatorial Affairs, Guggenheim Abu Dhabi and Senior Curator, Asian Art and Senior Advisor, Global Arts, at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and Foundation, New York, positions created for her since she joined the museum in 2006. Under her leadership, the Guggenheim has expanded its mission to broadening the geographical scope of its programs through the study, acquisition, and exhibition of art from non-Western regions. As director of curatorial affairs for the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi Project, she leads a team based in New York and Abu Dhabi charged with shaping its curatorial vision, building a collection of global art spanning the 1960s to the present, and developing and implementing the program that will establish Guggenheim Abu Dhabi as the preeminent modern and contemporary art museum in the region and beyond. She also founded and presides over the Guggenheim’s Asian Art Council, a curatorial think tank.
Munroe’s exhibitions and catalogues have won numerous awards including four prizes for best show from the International Association of Art Critics (AICA). Her 2009 Guggenheim show exploring the influence of Asian aesthetics and philosophy on American modern art, The Third Mind: American Artists Contemplate Asia, 1860–1989, won the inaugural National Endowment for the Humanities Chairman’s Special Award with a grant of one million dollars. Her exhibitions have been chosen for “top of the year” lists by the New York Times, International Herald Tribune, Artforum, Geijutsu Shincho, Hyperallergic, and Time Out New York, among other publications.
A native New Yorker, Munroe was raised in Mexico and Japan. She completed freshman and sophomore years at Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island, and received her BA in Japanese language and culture from Sophia University, Tokyo. During her college years in Japan, she was a resident lay disciple at Yōtokuin, a subtemple of Daitokuji, a 14th-century Rinzai Zen monastery in Kyoto.
Returning to New York in 1982, Munroe joined Japan Society, an American organization dedicated to cultural and policy exchange between Japan and the United States. During her seven-year tenure at Japan Society Gallery, she helped organize exhibitions of contemporary Japanese artists and architects including Tadao Ando, Arata Isozaki, Toyo Ito, Ushio Shinohara, and Hiroshi Sugimoto.
In the following years, she was an independent curator working with museums in the United States and Japan, including the Yokohama Museum of Art and the Center for International Contemporary Arts (CICA), New York. She organized the first US retrospectives of Asian-born artists Yayoi Kusama (1989) and Liu Dan (1993), and her 1994 survey exhibition Japanese Art after 1945: Scream Against the Sky launched the academic and curatorial field of postwar Japanese art history in the United States.
In 1998, Munroe was appointed Director of Japan Society Gallery. She led the museum’s expansion of contemporary arts programs through such award-winning exhibitions as Little Boy: The Arts of Japan’s Exploding Subcultures (2005), curated by Takashi Murakami, and organized the society’s first inter-Asia exhibition, Transmitting the Forms of Divinity: Early Buddhist Art from Korea and Japan (2003).
Munroe earned a masters degree in art history at the Institute of Fine Arts, New York University, and was awarded a Ph.D. in history from New York University, with a thesis on postwar Japanese art and politics.
Munroe is a trustee of the American Academy in Rome, Aspen Music Festival and School, Intelligence Squared US, LongHouse Reserve, and PEN America. She is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and is a former member of the Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD). She serves on the advisory boards of several organizations, including Asia Art Archive, Hong Kong; Jnanapravaha Mumbai; MAXXI, National Museum of 21st Century Art, Rome; and Rockbund Art Museum, Shanghai. She sits on the Visiting Committee of the Thomas J. Watson Library at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
In April 2011, she spearheaded the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation’s petition calling for the release of Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei. With broad support from the International Council on Museums (ICOM), AAMD, and PEN America, the petition garnered over 145,000 signatures worldwide on the activist website Change.org. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Munroe worked with Ai as curator of Ai Weiwei MASK. Launched in May 2020, this project offered face coverings hand-printed with iconic images of the artist’s lifelong campaign for free speech and individual rights. Ai donated the artworks to be sold exclusively through eBay for Charity to benefit the COVID-19 emergency humanitarian efforts led by non-governmental organizations.
Munroe has lectured widely at museums and academic conferences, including appearances at Harvard, Yale, Princeton, and Columbia universities; Culture Summit Abu Dhabi; School of Oriental and Asian Studies (SOAS), University of London; the Central Academy of Fine Arts (CAFA), Beijing; and the International Research Center for Japanese Studies, Kyoto, one of Japan’s National Institutes for the Humanities.
Munroe is married to financier and philanthropist Robert Rosenkranz and serves with him on the board of the Rosenkranz Foundation. In 2005, they cofounded Intelligence Squared US, a public policy debate forum carried on hundreds of NPR radio stations and heard by millions on NPR and iTunes podcasts.