Skip to main content

Panczenko, longtime director of Chazen Museum of Art, to retire

February 28, 2017

Russell Panczenko, director of the Chazen Museum of Art at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, will retire on June 30 after 33 years of service.

Under Panczenko’s leadership, the museum has become one of the preeminent university museums in North America and an invaluable asset to the UW–Madison campus and the state of Wisconsin.

Photo: Russell Panczenko

Russell Panczenko

“I’ve always said that I see the museum as the living room of the university,” Panczenko says. “It’s a place where you can come and learn, not only about the collection, but also about what kind of place the university is. You can come and be welcome and enjoy yourself.”

Panczenko was hired in 1984 to lead what was then the Elvehjem Museum of Art. He came to Madison from the Williams College Museum of Art, where he was assistant director. At UW–Madison, as director and chief curator, Panczenko grew the collection through acquisitions and gifts from approximately 12,000 objects to more than 21,000 today, making it the second-largest collection of art in Wisconsin.

In 2011, under Panczenko’s leadership, the museum completed a $43 million, privately funded expansion and was renamed in honor of the lead donors, Jerome A. and Simona Chazen. The 86,000-square-foot addition doubled gallery space and provided state-of-the-art storage for care and preservation of the collection, special art study rooms, an auditorium with film capabilities, and a vibrant, welcoming new lobby.

“The highlight of my time at Madison is obviously the building, but not just the building, because ultimately, it’s not about a building; it’s about what’s in the building,” Panczenko says. “I always looked at building a new museum in relationship to working with collectors who would then donate their collections to the University of Wisconsin. And I’m happy to say that it came together.”

Panczenko was born in Germany and grew up in Connecticut in a close-knit Ukrainian community. He earned an undergraduate degree at Fairfield University, where he was a competitive fencer. He received his doctorate of letters in art history, specializing in 15th-century Italian painting, from the University of Florence in 1979.

Photo: Chazen Museum of Art

The Chazen Museum of Art, as seen from East Campus Mall. Photo: Jeff Miller

Panczenko’s curatorial highlights include exhibitions of notable contemporary artists including Richard Artschwager (1991), John Cage (1991), Judy Pfaff (2001), Gillian Jagger (2002), Peter Gourfain (2002), Xu Bing (1990 and 2004), and Nicola López (2009); exhibitions of major Midwestern artists such as John Steuart Curry (1998–99) and John Wilde (1999); and exhibitions of prominent collections of 20th-century works, including the Terese and Alvin S. Lane Collection (1995 and 2008) and the Simona and Jerome Chazen Collection (2005).  Recently Panczenko organized two exhibitions of contemporary Chinese art: Tradition and Innovation: The Human Figure in Contemporary Chinese Art and Xu Bing, Background Story: A New Approach to Chinese Landscape Painting. Panczenko has also worked closely with Stephen and Pamela Hootkin, who recently donated their major collection of ceramic sculpture to the Chazen, resulting in a 5,000-square-foot gallery dedicated to contemporary ceramics and glass.

“We have been fortunate to have someone with Russell’s knowledge and passion to help us build a great art museum here on campus,” says Chancellor Rebecca Blank. “Because of his work, many people’s lives have been enriched by visiting the Chazen and seeing its vast and varied collection. Russell leaves behind a legacy that can be seen and felt in today’s Chazen Museum.  I am deeply grateful for all of his work.”

A search and screen committee has been formed to find a new director. Nominations and questions may be sent to