Tim Rodgers has had a special place in his heart for The Wolfsonian-FIU ever since its Journal of Decorative and Propaganda Arts published the art historian’s first scholarly article back in 1989, when he was a Ph.D. student at Brown University. Today Rodgers is director of the one-of-a-kind museum in Miami Beach. It houses a research center and library and boasts a 180,000-piece collection devoted to art and design from the 1850s to the 1950s. Covering the height of the Industrial Revolution through the aftermath of the Second World War, artifacts include a variety of media, from furniture and appliances to rare books and propaganda posters.
1. Prior to arriving at the Wolfsonian in 2015, you were director of the Scottsdale Museum of Art in Arizona. What attracted you to FIU and South Florida?
I have always admired the museum’s amazing collection, stellar exhibitions and publications, and great staff. And now that I am part of FIU, I have the same admiration for the high-quality work being accomplished at the university. The creative energy of Miami is a plus as well. It’s the perfect time to be in the arts in South Florida.
2. The Wolfsonian puts design on display in non-traditional forms. How should first-time visitors approach the museum and its exhibitions?
With an open mind. We are not a typical art museum, and that is what makes The Wolfsonian special and memorable. We are an institution that values all things made by humans because our creations represent the ideas we hold. For those of us who like to “see” ideas as much as read about them, The Wolfsonian’s wide range of objects allows us insight into the past as well as the present.
3. You sit on a universitywide arts committee. Why is exposure to the arts so vital for young people in particular?
The 21st century will be remembered as the century of images. Selfies, emoji, photos, videos and movies are the means by which we communicate with one another. What better way to learn about how to make and interpret images than through the study of art?
4. The museum is digitizing its collection at the same time that you are actively inviting visitors and researchers to your physical space. Why all this “behind-the-scenes” activity?
We want to make sure that people around the world have access to our collection, programs, exhibitions and publications. We believe our virtual museum and online publications provide a very full experience for those who cannot get here.
5. The Wolfsonian is celebrating 20 years since its joining the university. What plans do you have for the coming years?
In the next five years we will be renovating our current building to triple the amount of exhibition space. This will allow us to show much, much more of the permanent collection. People are going to be amazed to see what we have! ♦