Michael Darling, modern and contemporary curator at Seattle Art Museum since 2006, is leaving in July to become chief curator at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago.

It's a prestigious job, and no surprise: Darling's always been on his way up—he arrived at SAM from LA MoCA and, here, organized the landmark Target Practice: Painting Under Attack, 1949-78 as well as the less celebrated but no less excellent Thermostat: Video and the Pacific Northwest, the first-ever survey of contemporary video by artists of Portland, Seattle, and Vancouver, B.C.

His exhibition based on artists' responses to the life and work of Kurt Cobain is opening May 13.

Darling's the latest in a string of accomplished curators to move through the rotating door of this position at SAM. He follows the brilliant Trevor Fairbrother and the savvy and charismatic Lisa Corrin, both of whom contributed major exhibitions to the history of SAM and the city. Corrin, who worked on the ambitious show Baja to Vancouver, is now director of the Williams College Museum of Art.

What distinguished Darling from the others was his genuine commitment to exploring and revealing the connections between here and abroad. He was seemingly at every opening, and his exhibitions and acquisitions reflect that he did not simply live and work here, he thought here.

Who will be next?

I'll keep on top of it in the coming weeks.

And a full-length podcast with Darling, on his thoughts about Seattle art, to come.

Here's the interview I did with him when he arrived, and on the jump is this morning's full press release.

SAM’s Michael Darling Accepts Position as Chief Curator of the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago

SEATTLE, April 29, 2010 — Michael Darling, Seattle Art Museum’s (SAM) Jon and Mary Shirley Curator of Modern & Contemporary Art, has been appointed the new James W. Alsdorf Chief Curator of the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago (MCA). Darling will leave his post at SAM in July 2010, and the museum will soon begin the process of organizing a search committee to identify a successor.
“Of course, we are sad to see Michael go, but this is a wonderful opportunity for him to lead the artistic program at one of the finest contemporary art museums in the country,” said SAM’s Illsley Ball Nordstrom Director Derrick Cartwright. “Michael’s contribution to SAM has been critical to the institution’s success over the past four years. He leaves us with an extraordinary legacy on which successors will surely build. While I speak for everyone here in saying that he will be missed, we all wish Michael the best in his new challenge, and we hope to collaborate with him again at some point in the near future.”
“I think it is safe to say that if it weren’t for the incredible support and opportunities that I received during my tenure at SAM, the MCA would not have contacted me about the position,” said Darling. “The trust and commitment of SAM staff and trustees has enabled me to organize exhibitions and develop programs that have positioned SAM globally in terms of contemporary art, while the local community of collectors, artists, gallerists and critics has formed an incredible sounding board for these projects. The potential to build on these strides still exists, and I would expect to see SAM continue to capitalize on that promise.”
Darling joined the SAM staff in 2006, just prior to the opening of the Olympic Sculpture Park and the museum’s downtown expansion, where he helped shape the installation of the museum’s new modern and contemporary galleries on the third floor.
“One of the things that has made Michael’s work so successful at SAM is his enjoyment of situating contemporary art within the context of a global museum with historical collections,” said Chiyo Ishikawa, SAM’s Susan Brotman Deputy Director for Art and Curator of European Painting and Sculpture. “He worked with all of the curators in a dialogue between past and present, and this has enriched the program for us all.”

A highlight of his tenure at SAM was last summer’s special exhibition Target Practice: Painting Under Attack 1949-78 which has been called the finest modern art survey SAM has ever mounted. Immediately following Target Practice, Darling curated Alexander Calder: A Balancing Act, which closed on April 11, and James Ensor and Georg Baselitz: Graphic Works, currently on view. Darling also curated the upcoming exhibition Kurt, which opens May 13, 2010.
In 2008 Darling launched a new contemporary art exhibition program at SAM entitled SAM Next. The program presents a series of rotating exhibitions introducing audiences to emerging or underappreciated artists working in the Northwest, around the United States and internationally. SAM Next alumnus Enrico David has since been nominated for the prestigious Turner Prize. In addition, Darling curated a rotating series of videos and films including Thermostat: Video and the Pacific Northwest and Nicolas Provost: Selected Works.

Modern and contemporary acquisitions to the museum’s permanent collection also thrived under Darling. Highlights include Simon Starling’s mixed-media sculpture Bird in Space (2004), a video and sound installation by Sterling Ruby entitled Dihedral (2006), a significant group of representative works by Roy McMakin, a group of ceramic vessels by Toshiko Takaezu, Adrian Paci’s, stirring sculpture Home to Go (2001) and several works by Seattle based artist Jeffry Mitchell.
Prior to his arrival at SAM, Darling was an Associate Curator of the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles from 1999 to 2006. Darling has also worked as an independent curator and writer, contributing essays on art, architecture, and design to magazines and newspapers including Frieze, Art Issues, Flash Art, and the LA Weekly.