CURATOR of INDIAN and SOUTH ASIAN ART
As part of a dramatic expansion, the Peabody Essex Museum seeks a curatorial leader with deep experience in Indian Art, and a track record developing engaging exhibitions on diverse South Asian art forms and cultural traditions.
Founded in 1799 in Salem, Massachusetts, 15 miles from Boston, the Peabody Essex Museum is the 16th (soon to be the 9th) largest art museum in North America and is one of the nation’s fastest growing art museums.
PEM has achieved a singular record of growth over the last decades. In 2003, PEM completed one of the most striking museum transformations in American history, including growth of the operating budget from $3M to more than $18M, and addition of over 250,000 square feet of new and renovated gallery and public spaces. In 2011, the museum announced the public phase of a comprehensive advancement campaign for $650M, to be completed in 2017. The campaign, for which approximately $570M has been raised or pledged to date, includes a $350M addition to an already healthy endowment; $200M for a new 175,000 square-foot expansion; and $100M to support new collection installations and interpretation, as well as extensive infrastructure improvements that will benefit visitors, exhibitions and programming.
In the coming years, gallery space will increase by almost 60% from 102,000 to 160,000 square feet, and will move PEM from the Top 25 to the Top 10 museums in North America in terms of gallery space. In addition to the increased landscape for new collection-inspired installations, the museum expects to double the scale of its changing exhibition program, which currently offers 5-7 major shows annually as well as an array of smaller exhibitions. Some 250,000 people annually visit the museum, which employs 270 staff and engages over 120 docents in support of PEM’s educational mission. By 2017, the current $22M annual operating budget is projected to increase to $35M.
The Peabody Essex Museum has the highest visitor satisfaction ratings among 75 major museums in the United States, and PEM’s curatorial program is a key reason for this success.
PEM’s curatorial approach emphasizes innovation, crisp execution, and close partnership across departments and with external, leading-edge thinkers in a range of fields. This provides significant opportunities for curators to leverage team resources with reference to current trends and new developments in various fields.
INDIAN and SOUTH ASIAN COLLECTION
The first American museum to collect art from India, PEM counts among its earliest acquisitions historic works from India. These collections were a manifestation of the museum founders’ global purview, a sensibility and historical context that continues to inform PEM’s curatorial work.
Unlike other American museums that emphasize India’s classical art traditions, PEM is preeminent internationally for representing the art of the modern era, from the period of British colonial rule to the present, in what is modern-day India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. Additionally, the extensive Bhutanese textile collection is the most important such collection in an American museum. The museum also houses diverse works from various Southeast Asian cultures, principally from the Philippines, Thailand, Burma, Indonesia, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos, as well as from Tibet and Nepal.
PEM’s diverse library, costumes and textile holdings, Asian export and maritime art, and photography holdings complement many aspects of the Indian and South Asian collection. As just one example, PEM’s collection of 19th-century photographs by Lala Deen Dayal is one of the top three or four such collections in the world.
The museum is home to the most important collection of modern-era Indian art, from the 1700s to the present, outside India.
In 2001, the acquisition of the Chester and Davida Herwitz collection of post-Independence art from India established PEM as the first museum outside of India to focus on the achievements of its modern artists. The Herwitz collection of post-1947 Indian paintings—some 1,600 works by approximately 70 artists—remains unparalleled in any American or European museum.
Painting dominates the overall collection, in large measure because of the Herwitz collection, but also because of PEM’s deep holdings in the vernacular Kalighat painting tradition: the museum’s Kalighat paintings constitute one of the top three collections in the world.
The collection of vernacular and regional genres from across the subcontinent has grown to national importance. The Figiel collection of 15th-to-18th century devotional bronzes is a telling counterpoint to India’s classical sculpture traditions and provides a concentration of this type of vernacular material not available in other American public collections. Other areas of strength include: kantha quilts, colonial-period Indian export decorative art, especially furniture; 18th- and 19th-century British maritime-related prints, drawings and paintings of India; and 19th-century photographs, especially the group by Lala Deen Dayal. PEM’s colonial-era holdings are especially strong, and scholarly and collecting interest has begun to focus on this arena. The colonial-period holdings pose intriguing opportunities to work forward into the 20th and 21st centuries as well as to move back into and through classical Indian art. These elements, along with holdings in other collection areas, contribute to PEM’s ability to provide a multi-faceted approach to Indian and South Asian art and culture.
ASIAN Export Art Collections
Asian export art encompasses works in all media made by artists in China, Japan, India, and Indonesia (among other cultures), specifically for non-local patrons and markets. PEM’s collection is the largest, most comprehensive, and diverse collection of its type in the world. Among the first objects collected by the museum’s founders were decorative arts produced in China, Japan, and India for Europeans and Americans. The collection has a particularly strong international profile for Indian export furniture.
In the course of their work, curators will draw from works in the Asian Export Art collections to highlight the impact of cross-cultural exchanges on art and the impact of art on commerce and international relations.
The museum’s internationally distinctive strengths in South Asian, East Asian, and Asian Export art and culture, already central to this mission, will play an even greater role in this next, highly aspirational chapter. PEM is building a new curatorial team to generate fresh interpretation and appreciation of Asia’s diverse historic and contemporary artistic expressions, especially in the context of an increasingly interconnected and global dialogue. To this end, the museum seeks an innovative curator with experience specifically in Indian art and a strong commitment to PEM’s adventuresome interpretation and programming.