The Smithsonian’s National Museum of Asian Art celebrates landmark support totaling $17.5 million. In recognition of the museum’s exceptional collections and world-renowned scholarly expertise, three gifts have established named curatorial positions and will support new curatorial and conservation projects in the areas of South and Southeast Asian art, American art and Japanese art.
The Leon Levy Foundation’s $4.5 million grant honors the foundation’s trustee Elizabeth Moynihan and her extensive work as an architectural historian in South Asia by endowing the Elizabeth Moynihan Curator for South and Southeast Asian Art and establishing the Elizabeth Moynihan Research Fund for South Asian Art. The Lunder Foundation’s $1.25 million grant in 2014 launched the endeavor to permanently endow the Lunder Curator of American Art. Matching funds of $1.75 million were provided by Jacqueline B. Mars, Shelby and Frederick Gans, Paul Neely, Dr. and Mrs. Thomas P. Gage, and the Friends of the National Museum of Asian Art. The visionary bequest of the late Shirley Z. Johnson (1940-2021) includes $10 million, the largest single gift to the museum since its founding. It endows the Shirley Z. Johnson Curator of Japanese Art, sponsors visiting Japanese metal artists and supports curatorial and conservation projects.
This extraordinary level of support comes at a key moment as the museum prepares for its centennial in 2023—a milestone celebration and a springboard for the museum’s transformative vision for its next century, which will broaden and deepen the museum’s impact and reach.
“We are immensely grateful for these generous gifts,” said Chase F. Robinson, the Dame Jillian Sackler Director. “These gifts recognize the museum’s esteemed scholarship and ensure that our research continues to break new ground, bringing a deeper understanding of the arts and cultures of Asia to visitors, scholars and art lovers. The newly endowed curatorships are essential to safeguarding our remarkable collections in perpetuity.”
On behalf of the board, Antoine van Agtmael said, “As chair of the board of trustees, I celebrate these landmark gifts that recognize the museum’s world-class collections and curators. They help ensure the museum’s deep commitment to excellence of scholarship and to Asian art for all.”
South and Southeast Asian Art: $4.5 Million Grant From the Leon Levy Foundation
The Leon Levy Foundation’s grant includes $4 million to establish a permanent curatorial position, the Elizabeth Moynihan Curator for South and Southeast Asian Art. The remaining $500,000 will be used to establish the Elizabeth Moynihan Research Fund for South Asian Art, providing essential funding for curatorial research. The grant will play a critical role in supporting exhibitions of South Asian art, including the centennial exhibition, “A Splendid Land: Royal Paintings from Udaipur,” which will draw on new scholarship in ecological studies and the history of emotions and feature works never before seen outside of India. Other forthcoming exhibitions that reveal the scope of the museum’s engagement with these world areas include “Revealing Krishna: Journey to Cambodia’s Sacred Mountain” (2022), “Contemporary Photography from the Umesh and Sunanda Gaur Collection” (2022-3), “Krishna’s Path of Grace” (2025) and “Writing my Truth: The Mughal Emperor Babur.”
Debra Diamond, the current curator of South and Southeast Asian art at the museum, will assume the position of Elizabeth Moynihan Curator for South and Southeast Asian Art. “It is the honor of a lifetime to be named the Elizabeth Moynihan Curator for South and Southeast Asian Art,” Diamond said. “I’m deeply grateful to the Leon Levy Foundation for these transformational endowments, which will enable us to dramatically increase knowledge and appreciation of the arts and cultures of South and Southeast Asia.”
Shelby White, founding trustee of the Leon Levy Foundation, said, “We are delighted to honor our cherished trustee Elizabeth Moynihan, an architectural historian with a deep knowledge of India, the Mughal dynasty, and its exquisite gardens. The National Museum of Asian Art is our nation’s preeminent museum for the preservation and exhibition of exceptional collections of such art. And it is fitting that the National Museum of Asian Art has named the esteemed Dr. Debra Diamond to become the first Elizabeth Moynihan Curator for South and Southeast Asian Art.
About the Leon Levy Foundation
The Leon Levy Foundation, founded in 2004, is a private, not-for-profit foundation created from Leon Levy’s Estate by his wife and founding trustee, Shelby White. The Foundation continues Leon Levy’s philanthropic legacy and builds on his vision, supporting the preservation, understanding and expansion of knowledge in the ancient world, arts and humanities, nature and gardens, neuroscience, human rights and Jewish culture.
Founding trustee Shelby White was awarded the Carnegie Medal of Philanthropy in 2017 in recognition of her far-reaching philanthropic work. She serves on the boards of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Institute for Advanced Study, The New York Botanical Garden, New York University, Bard Graduate Center and The Writers Room. White is also chairman of the Friends of the Israel Antiquities Authority and serves as chairman of the Shelby White and Leon Levy Program for Archaeological Publications at Harvard University. White has written financial articles for publications including The New York Times, Town and Country and Forbes.
About Elizabeth Moynihan
Moynihan is an architectural historian and author who specializes in the study of Mughal gardens in South Asia. Moynihan authored a survey of Mughal gardens, Paradise as a Garden: in Persia and Mughal India in 1979. In 1996, Moynihan directed a joint project for the Archaeological Survey of India and the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, published in 2000 as The Moonlight Garden: New Discoveries at the Taj Mahal. She has researched extensively on Babur, the founder of the Mughal dynasty, locating and documenting four previously unknown sixteenth-century gardens that he built. A former member of the museum’s board, Moynihan established a fund in support of Babur-related initiatives and recently donated her garden archives to the museum’s Archives.
About Debra Diamond
A specialist in Indian court painting and the visual culture of yoga, Diamond received her doctorate from Columbia University. A curator of both historical and contemporary Asian art exhibitions, Diamond won numerous awards for her projects, including Smithsonian Secretary’s research prizes, a First Place Award of Excellence from the Association of Art Museum Curators for “Yoga: The Art of Transformation” (2013) and the 2010 College Art Association’s Alfred H. Barr Jr. award for best museum scholarship for the catalogue, Garden and Cosmos: The Royal Paintings of Jodhpur (2008). In her curating, Diamond emphasizes cross-disciplinary collaboration and new media to maximize the inspirational potential of extraordinary objects. Her most recent exhibition, “Encountering the Buddha: Art and Practice Across Asia” (2017), was accompanied by Paths to Perfection, the museums’ first handbook of its Buddhist collections, three apps and two immersive spaces.
American Art: $3 Million Endowment Provided by The Lunder Foundation and Museum Benefactors
In 2014, The Lunder Foundation’s $1.25 million grant launched the endeavor to permanently endow a curator of American art. The National Museum of Asian Art raised matching funds totaling $1.75 million, with support from Jacqueline B. Mars, Shelby and Frederick Gans, Paul Neely, Dr. and Mrs. Thomas P. Gage, and the Friends of the National Museum of Asian Art. This landmark endowment for the American art curator underscores the centrality of American art, especially the work of James McNeill Whistler, to the historical and artistic identity of the institution and its interpretation of Asian Art. Dr. Diana Jocelyn Greenwold was appointed inaugural Lunder Curator of American Art in September of 2021.
About The Lunder Foundation
The Lunder Foundation is a family foundation located in Maine, with primary areas of interest in the fields of art, higher education, and healthcare. The foundation’s primary area of geographic interest is Maine.
About Diana Jocelyn Greenwold
Greenwold specializes in late 19th and early 20th-century American fine and decorative arts, particularly in stories of trans-national exchange and the ways objects carry and transform culture. From 2014 to 2021, Greenwold served in various curatorial positions, ultimately as curator of American art at the Portland Museum of Art (PMA) in Portland, Maine. There, she oversaw the museum’s collection of over 11,000 American paintings, sculptures and decorative arts. Her exhibitions include “Mythmakers: The Art of Winslow Homer and Frederic Remington” (2020) and “In the Vanguard: Haystack Mountain School of Crafts, 1950-69” (2018). At the PMA, Greenwold also spearheaded the multi-stage reinterpretation of the Winslow Homer Studio. She received her doctorate in the history of art from the University of California, Berkeley, where her dissertation focused on immigrant craft workshops in New York and Boston settlement houses.
Japanese Art: Visionary $10 Million Bequest From Shirley Z. Johnson (1940-2021)
The $10 million bequest from the late Shirley Z. Johnson—the largest single gift to the museum since its founding—endows the Shirley Z. Johnson Curator of Japanese Art. Sol Jung was appointed in this role in September 2021. Combined with funds for sponsoring visiting Japanese metal artists and supporting curatorial and conservation work, the bequest enables the museum to deepen the study of Japanese art, especially ceramics and metalwork, and to educate the public through new initiatives.
About Shirley Z. Johnson
Earning a juris doctor degree from the University of Michigan Law School in 1965 as well as membership in the Order of the Coif, Johnson started her career as a trial attorney with the Department of Justice, Antitrust Division. She served as antitrust counsel to the United States Senate Judiciary Committee and subsequently entered private practice as a partner at Greenberg Traurig and the national chair of the antitrust practice. She authored distinguished legal papers. After her retirement from law in 2009, Johnson turned her attention to the arts and support for autism, including her founding the TRI Project, an innovative program for children in Iowa. She was a Friend of the National Museum of Asian Art for 27 years and served on its board from 2004 to 2012 and from 2017 until her death in 2021. As a trustee, Johnson served in executive positions and chaired numerous committees. Her extensive gifts to the museum include a significant collection of Ming- and Qing-dynasty textiles and nearly sixty outstanding artworks by contemporary Japanese metal artists. A pioneering collector in this field, Johnson helped establish its global recognition.
About Sol Jung
Jung specializes in Japanese art history with a focus on how transnational maritime trade impacted Japan’s visual culture during the premodern period. Jung received her Bachelor of Arts with distinction in the history of art at the University of Pennsylvania, and her Master of Arts in art and archaeology from Princeton University, where she will defend her doctoral degree at the end of October. Jung curated Princeton University Art Museum’s first thematic exhibition of Korean ceramics entitled “Korean Ceramics: From Archaeology to Art History.” She has examined the reception of Korean tea bowls, called kōrai jawan in Japan, during the 16th century. Fieldwork at several maritime settlement sites in Japan, and analysis of period tea documents, literary texts and archaeological remains have informed her research, which has been supported by the Metropolitan Center for Far Eastern Art Studies and the Kyujanggak International Center for Korean Studies.
About the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Asian Art
The Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Asian Art, are located on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. Committed to preserving, exhibiting and interpreting exemplary works of art, the museum houses exceptional collections of Asian art, with more than 45,000 objects dating from the Neolithic period to today. Renowned and iconic objects originate from China, Japan, Korea, South and Southeast Asia, the ancient Near East and the Islamic world. The Freer Gallery also holds a signiﬁcant group of American works of art largely dating to the late 19th century. It boasts the world’s largest collection of diverse works by James McNeill Whistler, including the famed Peacock Room. The National Museum of Asian Art is dedicated to increasing understanding of the arts of Asia through a broad portfolio of exhibitions, publications, conservation, research and education.