Ruth Berson, deputy director of curatorial affairs at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA), was named Officer in the French Ordre des Arts et Lettres (Order of Arts and Letters) in a medal ceremony held at the residence of the Consul General of France Romain Serman in San Francisco earlier this summer.
The Order was created in 1957 and is awarded by the French Minister of Culture to recognize international artists, writers, and scholars for their achievements in promoting global awareness of France’s cultural heritage. The honor is given out twice yearly and includes three ranks— Chevalier (up to 200 per year), Officer (up to 60 per year), and Commander (up to recipients 20 per year). Past American recipients include Maxwell Anderson, Paul Auster, Ornette Coleman, George Clooney, Philip Glass, William Griswold, Yvonne Rainer, Robert Redford, Patti Smith, Robert Storr, Meryl Streep, and Gary Tinterow.
“This medal represents the power of culture to bind countries,” says Neal Benezra, director of SFMOMA. “I’m pleased to celebrate Ruth’s incredible dedication to the arts, which has not only earned the distinction that comes with the award, but also the admiration of her peers at institutions worldwide.”
In 2000, Berson was made Chevalier in the Order in acknowledgement of her book The New Painting: Documentation, a two-volume reference, still widely cited, on the original eight Impressionist exhibitions that took place in Paris between 1874 and 1886. She began the groundbreaking work while at the Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco and received funding for it from the Getty Trust and the Mellon Endowment for Publications.
A decade later, she now has been promoted to the honorable rank of Officer for her work on a variety of major projects at SFMOMA that have engaged with French culture. She is responsible for bringing the phenomenally popular Marc Chagall retrospective from France to San Francisco in 2003, distinguishing SFMOMA as the only tour venue outside of Paris. Berson also forged the arrangement to share the museum’s critically acclaimed 2011 exhibition The Steins Collect: Matisse, Picasso, and the Parisian Avant-Garde with the Grand Palais in Paris.
Through her work at SFMOMA and at other American institutions, Berson’s ongoing relationship with French art and museums has led her to collaborate with the Jeu de Paume, La Fondation Cartier, the Institut du Monde Arabe, the Musée d’Orsay, the Réunion des musées nationaux, and the Musée d’Orsay, among many other important institutions. Her curatorial division has overseen exhibitions of work by French artists such as Sylvie Blocher, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Henri Matisse, and Philippe Parreno.
About Ruth Berson
Berson has worked at SFMOMA since 2000. As one of three deputy museum directors and a member of the senior management team, she is responsible for four divisions of program staff (curatorial; exhibitions; content strategy and digital engagement; and collections) with a total annual budget of over $13 million and a staff of more than 95. She oversees a yearly program of approximately 25 exhibitions presented on site and a touring exhibition program with up to 15 worldwide venues.
With the director and officers of the Board of Trustees, she played a key role in crafting SFMOMA’s 2011–17 strategic plan. For the upcoming museum expansion, she served as staff representative on the Architecture Selection Committee and is leading the staff in space planning, design development, and project management for the new building. Berson is a member of the International Exhibition Organizers group and has recently been elected to the United States Board of the International Committee on Museums (ICOM), a nongovernmental subcommittee of UNESCO that gathers leading experts from 137 countries in order to respond to the challenges facing museums around the world.