In Memoriam

Former SFMOMA curator and Glass House director Henry Urbach dies at 56

Henry Urbach served as the architecture and design curator at SFMOMA from 2006-2011. (Courtesy SFMOMA)

Curator, art dealer, and writer Henry Urbach has died at the age of 56. The former head of architecture and design at SFMOMA and director of Phillip Johnson’s The Glass House passed away after struggling with Late-Onset Bipolar Disorder on Saturday at his home in Tel Aviv, Israel.

A native of New Jersey, Urbach received his bachelor’s in the history and theory of architecture from Princeton University and completed two master’s degrees, one in architecture at Columbia University and the other at his alma mater in the former field of study. He opened his own experimental design gallery, Henry Urbach Architecture, in 1997, which quickly expanded his influence and connections within the realm of contemporary art and architecture. There he hosted over 55 exhibitions before closing up shop in New York. 

Urbach joined SFMOMA in 2006 as the Helen Hilton Raiser Curator of Architecture and Design, a position he served in for five years. Among his most famous exhibitions was How Wine Became Modern: Design + Wine 1976 to Now, a collaboration with Diller Scofidio + Renfro put on during the last few months of his tenure. He also accumulated hundreds of works for SFMOMA’s permanent collection including the inflatable building by Alex Schweder from the 2009 showcase, Sensate: Bodies and Design.  

From San Francisco, Urbach relocated to the East Coast to oversee The Glass House in New Canaan, Connecticut, in 2012. AN’s editor in chief Bill Menking spoke with him in 2017 about his career and his recent transition to Tel Aviv for a sabbatical period during which he taught at the Bezalel Academy of Art and Design and worked on various writing projects. During his near-three decades in the profession, Urbach penned articles for various journals and co-authored books on architectural history, theory, and criticism. He was a contributing editor for Interior Design magazine and wrote for outlets such as The Architect’s Newspaper, Metropolis, Artforum, and more.

Urbach is survived by his parents, siblings, his husband and partner of 35 years, Stephen Hartman, and partner of two years, Ronen Amira. 

Family and friends are asking for donations to be made in his honor to the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

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