Barbara Tannenbaum


Curator of Photography, Chair of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs

Barbara Tannenbaum joined the museum as curator of photography in 2011 after a distinguished career at the Akron Art Museum. For 26 years, she headed that institution’s curatorial area, including a decade leading a department that combined the curatorial and education staffs.

At Akron, Tannenbaum organized over 80 exhibitions, more than half focusing on photography and video. The groundbreaking A History of Women Photographers chronicled women’s achievements in fine art photography. The major retrospective Ralph Eugene Meatyard: An American Visionary was accompanied by a monograph that remains the standard reference on the artist two decades later. Tannenbaum served as primary author, editor, and publisher for the first survey of the Akron Art Museum’s collection and, in 2010, was editor and copublisher of Detroit Disassembled: Photographs by Andrew Moore. Under her tenure, the Akron Art Museum’s photography collection grew from 500 works to more than 2,500 photographs. From 1990 to 2010, she guided the selection process for the museum’s Knight Purchase Prize for Photographic Media. Tannenbaum participated in the planning process for the Akron Art Museum’s new building and reinstalled that museum’s collection of art from 1950 to the present. She has lectured extensively throughout the United States and in Canada and China. She is a trustee of the Fred and Laura Ruth Bidwell Foundation.

Upon arriving at the Cleveland Museum of Art, she organized the first museum exhibition of print-on-demand photobooks, DIY: Photographers & Books, and wrote the accompanying catalogue. Among the exhibitions organized for Cleveland have been explorations of the career of Ilse Bing; Frank Gohlke and Emmet Gowin’s photographs of the aftermath of the Mount Saint Helens eruption; the photographs and videos of Hank Willis Thomas; 19th-century photographs of India under the British Raj; and the museum’s holdings of American Pictorialist photography.

For these and other contributions, Tannenbaum received the Association of Midwest Museum’s Distinguished Career Award in 2010 and a Northern Ohio Live magazine Award of Achievement in 1998. In 2002, that publication designated her one of the 500 Most Influential Women in NE Ohio; the previous year, the YWCA named her one of 100 women of distinction in Summit County. Tannenbaum has held research fellowships from the Henry Luce Foundation, the American Association of University Women, and the Danforth Foundation.

Tannenbaum holds a BA in art history from Reed College and an MA and PhD in modern and contemporary art from the University of Michigan. She attended the Getty Leadership Institute in 1997. Before entering the museum world, Tannenbaum was director of the OxBow Summer School of Art and taught at Oberlin College, the University of Wyoming, the University of Illinois Chicago, and the Northeastern Ohio Universities College of Medicine.

Contact the Curator at:

Collection Area