Profile of Mary Anne Goley (BA 1967)

In 1975, Mary Anne Goley ’67 began her unorthodox art-historical career as the first Director of the Federal Reserve Board Fine Arts Program. Over the course of three decades at the Federal Reserve, she organized exhibitions on everything from New York Graffiti artists to the first American exhibition of Charles Rennie Mackintosh and built the Federal Reserve’s remarkable permanent collection. She was twice knighted, the first time by Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands and the second by the Grand Duke and Duchess of Luxembourg. Although she retired from her post on the first day of 2007, she is still deeply engaged with the discipline, having just published her first book, John White Alexander: An American Artist in the Gilded Age.

Goley’s extraordinary career as an art historian began at UMD where she was the office assistant to Dr. William Gerdts who had just been hired both to teach and to direct the university art gallery.  Drawn to the opportunity to, as she puts it, “look at beautiful works of art and interpret what they mean,” Goley notes that the most vital skill art history teaches is the ability to solve problems—a skill she relied on throughout her career at the Federal Reserve.  As the sole art historian in an organization of economists, Goley held responsibilities akin to those involved in running a small museum—collecting, fundraising, and organizing exhibitions.  Despite the financial constraints of the Federal Reserve’s Fine Arts Program, which forced her to “collect against the market,” she mounted a number of ground-breaking shows. In 1982, her landmark exhibition The Hague School and its American Legacy, which brought together the works of Jozef Israëls and early Piet Mondrian alongside their American counterparts, caught the attention of the Queen of the Netherlands.  Indeed, as Goley notes, art history has an extraordinary capacity to bring diverse groups of people together. As she fondly recalls, the Queen of the Netherlands came to the Federal Reserve for the art, not the economists!

Her advice for current students of art history: “Learn to look. You have to be able to move beyond what a textbook tells you and learn to analyze the work for its inherent characteristics.” Indeed, an incisive capacity for looking has distinguished Goley’s career. Many of the artists she collected thirty years ago are now being acquired by or recognized by major museums in Washington, D.C. and New York. “Learn to trust your eye,” she urges, and be open to the “unconventional opportunities to apply your art historical skills.” Sage advice for any art history major!

Grace Yasumura interviewed Mary Anne Goley on March 6th, 2018.