Brian Ferriso

Headshot of Brian Ferriso

Director & Chief Curator

Brian Ferriso has served as Director for nearly 20 years. Since his appointment in 2006, the Museum has thrived under his guiding principles of art, access, and accountability. Ferriso leads all aspects of the institution, including setting the curatorial vision and overseeing exhibitions, along with acquisitions and the care and continued growth of the museum’s permanent collection. During his tenure, he more than doubled the Museum’s curatorial staff, including creating a new Assistant Curator of Native American Art position in recognition of increased institutional focus and growth in that area of the collection. Additionally, Ferriso reshaped and rebranded the Museum’s education program as Learning and Community Partnerships to better reflect the institution’s core values of inclusivity and community. 

Committed to learning and expanding free admission opportunities, Ferriso also created the Art Access Endowment at PAM, which supports free admission in perpetuity for children 17 and under, free school tours, and quarterly family free days. Under Ferriso’s leadership, the Museum added nearly $32M in new gifts to the endowment, permanently endowed four of the Museum’s nine curatorial positions, and eliminated $7M in unfunded debt. 

Ferriso is currently leading the Museum through a comprehensive campus transformation to expand its public and gallery spaces in ways that reimagine the visitor experience and provide increased access to the Museum’s exhibitions, programs, and growing collections, including of Native American, Northwest, and contemporary art. The new glass Rothko Pavilion will connect the Museum’s two historic buildings, creating streamlined pathways across four floors of gallery space and providing a new transparent and welcoming “front door.” Along with 95,000 square feet of new or upgraded public and gallery space, the expansion and renovation includes new amenities that address the needs of more diverse audiences. One of the largest capital projects for the arts in Oregon’s history, the $141M campaign has already raised more than $121M. To ensure the Museum’s vitality as a preeminent civic resource for generations to come, the campaign includes $30M to grow its endowment.  

In 2023, Ferriso was appointed by the Governor of Oregon to serve on the Portland Central City Task Force to tackle issues impacting the economic future of downtown Portland. PAM’s expansion and renovation project is a key part of revitalizing the city’s business and cultural core that has been slow to recover after the pandemic. 

During Ferriso’s tenure, the Museum has organized a diverse schedule of exhibitions and publications that have featured important works of art and presented new scholarship, with the goal of bringing art from around the world to Oregon as well as introducing the world to the art of the region. Over the past two decades PAM has also significantly diversified its collection, adding works by underrepresented artists, with emphasis on acquiring works by women, Native American and Black artists, as well as by other artists of color. The Museum has also continued to expand its commitment to collecting works by artists in the Pacific Northwest, building unparalleled holdings that reflect art throughout the region. 

Ferriso has also worked to expand PAM’s engagement with the Native American community and its representation within the Museum. Exhibitions during his tenure include Contemporary Native Photographers and the Edward Curtis Legacy (2016), Native Fashion Now (2016), Mesh (2021), Dakota Modern: The Art of Oscar Howe (2022), Jeffrey Gibson: They Come From Fire (2022); and the Museum’s selection as co-commissioning institution for the space in which to place me (2024), Jeffrey Gibson’s exhibition for the U.S. Pavilion at the Venice Biennale. Ferriso also added Native American representation to the Museum’s Board, and established a Native American Advisory Committee to provide guidance on exhibitions and programs. 

Additional Exhibitions of note during his tenure include: Black Artists of Oregon (2023); Hank Willis Thomas: All Things Being Equal… (2019); Seeing Nature: Landscape Masterworks from the Paul G. Allen Family Collection (2015); The Art of the Louvre’s Tuileries Garden (2014), The Enclave: Richard Mosse (2014); The Question of Hope: Robert Adams in Western Oregon (2013); Carrie Mae Weems: Three Decades of Photography and Video (2013); The Artist’s Touch, The Craftsman’s Hand: Three Centuries of Japanese Prints from Portland Art Museum (2011); and Wild Beauty: Photographs of the Columbia River Gorge, 1867-1957 (2008). 

Ferriso also conceived of Masterworks|Portland, a series of single-work exhibitions, and curated Titian’s La Bella (2011), Thomas Moran’s Shoshone Falls on the Snake River (2010), and Raphael’s La Donna Velata (2009). He launched a series of highly successful design-focused exhibitions that explore the influence of art and design on architecture, fashion, consumer goods, and luxury products, including Cyclopedia: Iconic Bicycle Design (2013).  

In 2023, Ferriso led the Museum’s opening of the PAM CUT // Center for an Untold Tomorrow in Southeast Portland, a new space to present film and new media, expanding the Museum’s programming and physical presence to another part of the city. 

Prior to joining the Portland Art Museum, Ferriso served as Director of Philbrook Museum of Art in Tulsa, OK from 2002-2006. He also held positions as Senior Director of Curatorial Affairs, Milwaukee Art Museum for three years, and as Assistant Director at the Smart Museum of Art, University of Chicago from 1997-2003. Ferriso has been published in a number of exhibition catalogs and art publications and has written articles for Curator: The Museum Journal and Museum magazine. 

Ferriso received a B.A. in economics from Bowdoin College, an M.A. in arts administration from New York University, and an M.A. in art history from the University of Chicago. He is a past Trustee and President (2016-2017) of the Association of Art Museum Directors; a Trustee of the American Federation of Arts and Chair of its exhibitions committee; and a member of American Alliance of Museums (AAM) and CEO, Chief Executives Organization. Ferriso is the recipient of the 2012 Excellency Award from the Foundation for Italian Art and Culture, and a member of the International Council Museum Berggruen Berlin. He is also a practicing artist, using training that he acquired while studying with Frank Mason of the Art Students League in New York City.