Peabody Essex Hires American Art Curator

Peabody Essex Museum American art curator Austen Barron Bailly (Courtesy of the Peabody Essex Museum)
Peabody Essex Museum American art curator Austen Barron Bailly (Courtesy of the Peabody Essex Museum)

Austen Barron Bailly, the head of the American art department at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, has been named the new curator of American art at the Peabody Essex Museum, the Salem institution has announced. She is expected to begin work here in January.

“Bailly will lead the development of a multi-faceted American art program focusing on exhibitions, new interpretation in the galleries, and expanding the museum’s collection which currently includes paintings, decorative arts, photographs, folk art, and textiles representing over 300 years of New England and American art and culture,” according to the Peabody Essex.

The museum trumpets the position, officially the George Putnam Curator of American Art, as its “first curator of American art,” but this is somewhat misleading as American art has been a primary focus of the museum throughout its two centuries of existence.

Bailly, a curator at the Los Angeles museum since 1991, previously was a research assistant at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and Wildenstein & Co., Inc. in New York. The New Orleans native earned her PhD in art history from the University of California, Santa Barbara, (her dissertation was "Painting the American Historical Epic: Thomas Hart Benton and Race, 
1919-1936") and her master’s degree from Williams College.

Bailly's exhibits and research have featured “The Art of John Biggers” (2010), “Alex Katz, Eric Fischl, and the Beach Scene,” (2010), “Pueblo Pottery: 1800-1900,” (2009), Thomas Hart Benton, Childe Hassam, John Singer Sargent and landscapes of the American West. But most notably, the Peabody Essex says, she was “managing curator” for the 2007 “full reinstallation of LACMA’s permanent American art collection galleries.”

Update: Peabody Essex Museum spokesperson April Swieconek writes in to say, "We would perhaps question the use of the word 'misleading' in relation to her hire. We have never in our history had a full-time American Arts curator. We have a curator of Native American art, one of American Decorative Art, and a Maritime curator, who sometimes covers American themes. We've also had guest curators for some projects. And traveling exhibitions of American painting on view. Austen's job is very straight-forward good news for us — she'll lead a team of the aforementioned curators to develop a more cohesive and exciting and American program, and will emphasize painting in her projects."

This program aired on December 10, 2012. The audio for this program is not available.

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Greg Cook Arts Reporter
Greg Cook was an arts reporter and critic for WBUR's The ARTery.



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