March – April 2020 The Curators

Judging from a short stroll with Sarah Meister through the newly renovated Museum of Modern Art on a recent chilly morning, nobody at MoMA is a stranger to her. She greets everybody by name, cheerfully. Meister, curator of photography, has been at MoMA for 23 years, which might account for all of the people she knows, but not for her friendly demeanor and enthusiasm for what she does. That points to her general world view: “I believe in treating people the way you would want to be treated, and I think that extends to art,” she says. “You have to respect the art and not put things into combinations that serve you and your ideas.” Take her current exhibition, Dorothea Lange: Words & Pictures, on…

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January – February 2020 The Curators

When Katherine Bussard was growing up in Indianapolis, IN, her parents regularly took her to museums. They tended not to amble, though, keeping a brisk pace so that their daughter would not get bored. In fact, the young Bussard enjoyed museums immensely, and finally she protested, demanding that they stop and take some time to look at the art. “I loved being in museums from a young age,” she says. That childhood episode took place at the Art Institute of Chicago, where Bussard would later work for nearly a decade. Before that, she studied art history at Smith College, where she first began making photographs herself, then at Williams College, where she took every photo history course available. She wrote her thesis on Robert Mapplethorpe,…

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November – December 2019 The Curators

When Christopher McCall became the director of Pier 24 Photography, the San Francisco exhibition space that houses the permanent collection of the Pilara Foundation, the collection included about 2,500 objects. Today it includes more than 5,500 individual images (counting all of the images in individual portfolios), and Pier 24 is marking its tenth anniversary with two exhibitions: Looking Back, through April 30, 2020, with photographs and portfolios Andrew and Mary Pilara acquired before they founded Pier 24, and Looking Forward, with work they’ve collected since. Both are curated by Allie Haeusslein, the associate director of Pier 24, who McCall credits with being an invaluable colleague as well as the driving force behind the institution’s expanded publications program. McCall came on board before the pier actually…

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September – October 2019 The Curators

When Sarah Kennel completes the installation of Sally Mann: A Thousand Crossings, which opens at Atlanta’s High Museum on October 19, she’ll know the exhibition backwards and forwards, inside and out.  It will be the third time she installs the show, which she began working on when she was a curator at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.  When Kennel became the Byrne Family Curator of Photography at the Peabody Essex Museum in 2015, she installed the show there, then at the Jeu de Paume in Paris, and now at the High, where she became the Donald and Marilyn Keough Family Curator of Photography in July. It hasn’t gotten old: “My favorite time of being a curator is the week you’re installing,” she…

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July – August 2019 The Curators

  Apollo’s Muse: The Moon in the Age of Photography, on view at the Metropolitan Museum of Art July 3 through September 22, focuses on the role of photography in the scientific investigation and artistic interpretation of the moon. The show glides back and forth between science and art, sometimes weaving them together. Inspired by the 50thanniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing, the exhibition is specific in its subject matter, but representative, in many ways, of the sorts of shows organized by its curator, Mia Fineman. “The thing that interests me about photography is its variety,” says Fineman, who has been at the Met for more than 20 years, “the fact that it’s not only an art medium, but also a medium of communication,…

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May – June 2019 The Curators

  Thirteen years ago, when Ashlyn Davis was right out of high school, she worked as an intern at the Houston Center for Photography (HCP). Today, she runs the place. The multifaceted organization shows contemporary photography, ranging from surreal images by Fumi Ishino to Morgan Ashcom’s series What the Living Carry, which employs a documentary aesthetic to create a fictional rural American town. As a mid-sized organization, says Davis, “We can be more nimble, which makes our shows more resonant in the current moment. We get to be experimental and try out ideas, pushing the boundaries of what a photograph is and showing artists right before their careers launch.” The HCP showed Genevieve Gaignard, an LA-based artist whose work focuses on race, class, and femininity,…

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March – April 2019 The Curators

    How often does it happen that the job you dream of when you’re starting out is the job you wind up having, happily, more than 30 years in? Anne Havinga, the Estrellita and Yousuf Karsh Chair of Photography at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, is that lucky soul. “I can tell you that when I was starting out, this was my goal museum,” she says. Clifford Ackley, now the Ruth and Carl J. Shapiro Curator of Prints and Drawings, was head of the Department of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs at the time. “I knew Cliff Ackley was head of the department, and I thought: I would like to learn from this person. I’m really pleased that I’ve been able to flourish here.”…

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January – February 2019 The Curators

Back in 2012, when Seth Feman joined the Chrysler Museum of Art in Norfolk, VA, as the manager of interpretation, he thought he’d be there for a year or so. He had just finished a fellowship at the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C., when the Chrysler brought him in to work on making its exhibitions more accessible. As it turns out, he stayed on, becoming the museum’s curator of exhibitions as well as its photography curator. In that time, Feman managed to do something the photography department had done only once before in 25 years, namely, win the fierce curatorial competition in the annual presentation to the Masterpiece Society. Curators from each department select a work to present to the society – in under 10 minutes…

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November – December 2018 The Curators

  “It’s a special job,” says Makeda Best, referring to her position as the Richard L. Menschel Curator of Photography at the Harvard Art Museums. Best approaches photography as a fine art, of course, but also as a teaching tool. “I collect and install strategically,” she says. “How is it going to fit into the broader story we are telling at the museum, but also how can I complicate what the students think they know about photography and its histories.” Best’s current exhibition, Time Is Now: Photography and Social Change in James Baldwin’s America, on view through December 30 at Harvard’s Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts, explores the life of the acclaimed African-American author as well as the issues of the day, many of…

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