Ellen H Johnson
- Category : 1910-births
- Type : MGE
- Profile : 3/5 - Martyr / Heretic
- Definition : Single
- Incarnation Cross : RAX The Sleeping Phoenix 4
American distinguished historian and professor of modern art at Oberlin College in Ohio from 1945 to 1977, an organizer of important exhibitions, and an influential critic of contemporary American art. Johnson was promoted to full-time instructor in 1945, full professor in 1964, and honorary curator of modern art at Oberlin’s Allen Art Museum in 1973.
Although Johnson was never officially a curator, she became a member of the Allen’s acquisition committee in 1947 and advised Oberlin’s curators in organizing a biennial exhibition known as the Three Young Americans. Over the years, it showed first the black-striped paintings that established Frank Stella’s reputation, and subsequently featured the work of Robert Rauschenberg, Joan Mitchell, Claes Oldenburg, Bruce Nauman, Chuck Close, Jackie Winsor and many other young artists.
Although an acknowledged scholar of Cézanne, Picasso, Munch, Kensett and other modern masters, by 1960 Johnson was teaching a college course on "Art Since 1945". In 1962 she wrote the first important article on Claes Oldenburg, and in 1970, with curator of modern art Athena Tacha, she commissioned his first permanent large sculpture (3-Way Plug) for the grounds of the Allen. Gradually, with support from her friend and classmate Ruth Coates Roush, she built for the Allen a substantial collection of contemporary art.
Among many other distinctions and awards, Johnson was the Commissioner of the U.S. for the first India Triennale of Contemporary Art in New Delhi in 1968. That same year she purchased the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Weltzheimer house (1948–1950) in Oberlin, and spent a considerable part of her time and money restoring the building, where she lived the rest of her life.
Johnson's books include Modern Art and the Object: a Century of Changing Attitudes (1976, 1993), American Artists on Art from 1940 to 1980 (1982), Eva Hesse, a Retrospective of the Drawings (1982) and Fragments Recalled at Eighty: the Art Memoirs of Ellen H. Johnson (ed. Athena Tacha, 1993).
Ellen Johnson died of cancer on 23 March 1992, aged 81, in Oberlin, Ohio.