Arts curator Gilbert leaving BMA

July 23, 2005|By Glenn McNatt | Glenn McNatt,SUN ART CRITIC

The curator who helped reshape how the Baltimore Museum of Art presents contemporary art and initiated several major acquisitions for the museum is leaving to take a post at the art museum of the University of California at Berkeley.

Chris Gilbert, who during his three-year tenure at the BMA created innovative, cutting-edge exhibitions that were highly popular with younger museumgoers, will leave in early September to become Phyllis Wattis MATRIX curator at Berkeley's Art Museum and Film Archive, said BMA spokeswoman Anne Mannix.

The MATRIX program is widely considered one of the leading contemporary art venues on the West Coast.

Gilbert, 38, has been the BMA's curator of contemporary art since August 2003, when he was hired to replace Helen Molesworth, who resigned the year before to become chief curator for exhibitions at the Wexner Center at Ohio State University.

Previously, Gilbert had been an associate curator at Iowa's Des Moines Art Center.

BMA director Doreen Bolger yesterday praised Gilbert for his contributions to the museum's contemporary art programs.

"Chris did an extraordinary job of bringing to the BMA innovative, emerging artists from around the world as well as from this community," Bolger said.

"He also made brilliant acquisitions that established a new, more international direction for the collection of contemporary art," Bolger added. "We were lucky to have him here."

Gilbert curated Cram Sessions, a series of four experimental exhibitions of recent contemporary art that challenged viewers to think about art and the role of museums in new ways.

He also coordinated last year's landmark retrospective of African-American artist Kerry James Marshall and supervised an eight-month residency project at the museum with British artist Liam Gillick.

"I'm quite looking forward to taking the position of MATRIX curator at the Berkeley Art Museum," Gilbert said yesterday in an e-mail statement.

"My main goal in the Cram Sessions series ... has been to create a discursive exhibition practice ... in dialogue with ideas from the fields of social, political and economic theory," he added. "The MATRIX program, with its history of commissioning work, seems especially well-suited to this goal."

Among the acquisitions Gilbert helped bring to the BMA were Olafur Eliasson's Flower Observatory, a magical stainless steel sculpture that mimics the experience of the night sky, and Marshall's The Ladder of Success, a set of minimalist colored boxes inscribed with words evoking African and Western values.

He also was instrumental in the BMA's acquisition of Renee Green's video installation SoundWaves, a series of seven sound pavilions that explore the intersection of contemporary art and music.

The BMA was the first American museum to acquire major pieces by Eliasson and Green.

Unlike his predecessor, however, Gilbert did not originate any large-scale traveling shows comparable to Molesworth's 2003 exhibition Work Ethic.

The last large traveling exhibition originated by the BMA was Slide Show, which opened in February. It was curated by Darsie Alexander, who was then curator of prints, drawings and photographs.

In late May, Alexander was promoted to senior curator of contemporary art as part of a staff reorganization.

Bolger said the museum has no immediate plans to hire a replacement for Gilbert.

"Chris' interest has been in working with living artists on temporary exhibitions," Bolger said. "That's enabled us to infuse a lot of innovation and include artists working up to the present minute in our schedule."

But Alexander will now be responsible for reinstalling the contemporary art galleries, Bolger added.

"Darsie will be working on installing works in the West Wing as well as bringing in new contemporary works," she said. "There will be a new concept for the wing since Helen's departure."

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