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The Virginia Museum of Fine Art's collections are overseen by a talented curatorial team who are committed to advancing scholarship in their respective fields and engaging with the museum's diverse audiences in the exploration of art and human achievement.
Dr. Michael R. Taylor joined VMFA in 2015 as the Chief Curator and Deputy Director for Art & Education. A native of London, England, Taylor served as Director of the Hood Museum of Art at Dartmouth College until March 2015. Prior to his tenure at Hood, Taylor spent his career at the Philadelphia Museum of Art from 1997 until 2011, most recently as the Muriel and Philip Berman Curator of Modern Art and Head of the Department of Modern and Contemporary Art. A highly regarded museum administrator, curator, author, and expert on modern and contemporary art, Taylor is a scholar of Dada and Surrealism with a focus on the work and ideas of Marcel Duchamp. Taylor’s 2009 exhibition catalogue, Marcel Duchamp: Étant donnés, won both the prestigious George Wittenborn Prize and first prize for best museum permanent collection catalogue by the American Association of Art Museum Curators. Also in 2009, Taylor was co-commissioner with Carlos Basualdo for the Bruce Nauman exhibition at the American Pavilion for the 53rd Venice Biennale. The exhibition won the Golden Lion award for best national pavilion.
Dr. Ndubuisi C. Ezeluomba Is the VMFA Curator of African Art. A specialist in the visual and expressive arts of Africa, he received a Ph.D. in art history from the University of Florida, Gainesville, and earned the University Doctoral Dissertation Award for his dissertation, Olokun Shrines: Their Functions in the Culture of the Benin Speaking People of Southern Nigeria. Before coming to VMFA, Ezeluomba was the Francoise Billion Richardson Curator of African Art at the New Orleans Museum of Art. Between 2016 and 2018, he was the Andrew W. Mellon Research Specialist in African Art at the VMFA.
While at the New Orleans Museum of Art, he exhibited Ancestors in Stone, Body Adornment in African Art. He also co-curated an upcoming exhibition Black Orpheus: Jacob Lawrence and the Mbari Club scheduled to begin in the fall of 2022.
Ezeluomba has contributed articles and book chapters to numerous publications including Black Art Quarterly; African Arts journal; Hyperallergic; Routledge Encyclopedia of African Studies; African Artists: From 1882 to Now (Phaidon) and Routledge Encyclopedia of Modernism. His essay Cultural Patrimony and Discussion of the 1897 Invasion of Benin Kingdom: Some Questions for Arts Management will appear in the forthcoming publication Art Management and Cultural Policy across the African Diaspora (2022). Ezeluomba was also a co-author of The Arts of Africa: Studying and Conserving the Collection (2021), the product of a groundbreaking collaboration between VMFA curators and conservators, supported by a major grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Other recent published works include Benin Art: Changes through Time and Space in The Literature and Arts of the Niger Delta (2021); and The Development of the Exhibition of African Art in American Museums: Strategy for Engaging the Recent Repatriation Debate About the Cultural Property of Benin in Museum Innovation: Building More Equitable, Relevant and Impactful Museums (2020).
Dr. Leo G. Mazow, Louise B. and J. Harwood Cochrane Curator of American Art, has been at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts since 2016. A specialist in nineteenth- and twentieth-century American painting and cultural history, he received his PhD at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. From 2010 through 2016 he was an associate professor of art history at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville. From 2002 through 2010 he was curator of American art at the Palmer Museum of Art at Penn State University.
Among the exhibitions and accompanying publications he organized there are Picturing the Banjo; Taxing Visions: Financial Episodes in Late Nineteenth-Century American Art; and Shallow Creek: Thomas Hart Benton and American Waterways. His book Thomas Hart Benton and the American Sound was awarded the 2013 Eldredge Prize for Distinguished Scholarship in American Art, presented by the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Mazow has published articles on Edward Hopper, Regionalism, New York Dada, and American landscape painting in such journals as Art Bulletin, American Art, and Winterthur Portfolio. In 2015 he held a Paul Mellon Senior Visiting Fellowship at the Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts at the National Gallery of Art, where he worked on his book project, Hopper’s Hotels, which will also be the subject of his first exhibition project at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.
Dr. Susan J. Rawles, Elizabeth Locke Associate Curator of American Decorative Arts, joined the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in 1995. She has since served as Interim Department Head, Assistant Curator of American Decorative Art, and Research Associate for the American Department. Rawles received a PhD in American Studies from the College of William and Mary, an MA in the history of art from Rice University, and a BA in economics and government from Smith College. While specializing in material culture of the mid-17th to early-19th century, she has written and lectured on topics ranging from colonial portraiture to period interiors. A member of the installation teams for VMFA's American art galleries (2010) and the James W. and Frances Gibson McGlothlin Collection (2015), she co-authored the accompanying publications, American Art at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts (2010) and A Promise Fulfilled: The James W. and Frances Gibson McGlothlin Collection of American Art (2015). Her most recent projects include "Collecting for the Commonwealth: Celebrating a Century of Art Patronage at VMFA, 1919-2018," an exhibition and catalog prepared for the 2018 Winter Antiques Show in New York; and "A Return to the Grand Tour: Micromosaic Jewels from the Collection of Elizabeth Locke," an exhibition with catalog opening in 2019.
Dr. Christopher C. Oliver, Bev Perdue Jennings Associate Curator of American Art, joined VMFA in 2013. His particular interests in American art encompass painting, sculpture, and prints of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. He has published and presented widely on topics ranging from European modernism, vernacular art and architecture in colonial America, to the popular vogue for panorama paintings in the mid-nineteenth century. At VMFA, Oliver curated Ansel Adams: Compositions in Nature (2021) and Virginia Arcadia: The Natural Bridge in American Art (2021), Robert McNeill 1938 (2019), The Likeness of Labor (2015) and co-curated Remnants and Revivals: Architectural Etchings by Charles Meryon and John Taylor Arms (2016), as well as participated in the installation and publication of Matisse, Picasso, and Modern Art in Paris (2010) and The James W. and Frances Gibson McGlothlin Collection of American Art (2015). He received his PhD and MA in the history of art and architecture from the University of Virginia, and his BA in art history from the University of Richmond. Before joining VMFA, Oliver held fellowship positions at Reynolda House Museum of American Art, Winterthur Museum, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Dr. Peter Justin Moon Schertz has served as curator of Ancient Art since October 2006 and the Jack and Mary Ann Frable Curator of Ancient Art since 2007. Dr. Schertz received his BA in classical languages and literature from the University of Chicago (1987) and his PhD in Classical Art and Archaeology from the University of Southern California (2004). In addition to his museum work, Dr. Schertz worked as an editor for the Israel Antiquities Authority and currently serves on the Executive Committee of the Association of Art Museum Curators.
At VMFA, Dr. Schertz curated the exhibition The Horse in Ancient Greek Art (2017) and has engaged in a number of research projects, including as the co-director of the Arch of Titus Digital Restoration Project and as co-director of the NEH-supported study of the Richmond Caligula, now published as New Studies on the Portrait of Caligula in the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts (Brill, 2020). He has also published on the Second Temple in Jerusalem in its Roman context and is currently researching the history and significance of equestrian statues from the Marcus Aurelius statue in Rome to Kehinde Wiley's Rumors of War at the VMFA. He is particularly interested in how new technologies can help us understand and interpret ancient art.
Barry Shifman, the Sydney and Frances Lewis Family Curator of Decorative Arts 1890 to the Present, joined the staff of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in 2007. Shifman received his BA in art history from the University of California at Los Angeles and an MA in art history from the University of Chicago. He spent a year of independent study in Paris and six months at the Victoria and Albert Museum Study Centre in London. Previously, he was in charge of the Department of Decorative Arts at the Indianapolis Museum of Art from 1988 to 2006, where he completed the reinstallation of the collection of Decorative Arts at the museum.
Shifman has organized more than 20 exhibitions on subjects as diverse as American Arts & Crafts, Renaissance and Baroque European silver at the Armory Museum (Kremlin), and contemporary glass. At present, Shifman is organizing a major traveling exhibition on Paris Fashion and Art Deco, 1910–1930. He has published more than 30 scholarly and popular articles, in journals such as Apollo, Revue du Louvre, Burlington, and Antiques, on topics such as Art Nouveau and Art Deco jewelry, 18th- to 19th-century Sèvres porcelain, American Arts & Crafts, and 19th-century British furniture. Shifman has been instrumental in the reinstallation of VMFA’s Fabergé and Russian decorative arts holdings, which encompasses nearly 200 Fabergé objects and is the largest public collection outside of Russia. VMFA’s remodeled and expanded Fabergé galleries are scheduled to reopen in late 2016.
Li Jian is the E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Curator of East Asian Art at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. Prior to joining VMFA in 2007, she served as Kettering Curator of Asian Art at the Dayton Art Institute from 1995, and before than as a Mellon Fellow at the Indianapolis Museum of Art. In addition to overseeing the reinstallation of the Asian Wing in Dayton, Li curated two exhibitions with accompanying catalogues: Eternal China: Art from the First Dynasties (1998) and The Glory of the Silk Road: Art from Ancient China (2003). Since completing the installation of VMFA’s new East Asian galleries in 2012, Li curated exhibitions the Forbidden City: Imperial Treasures from the Palace Museum, Beijing (2014), and the Terracotta Army: Legacy of the First Emperor of China (2017), along with exhibition catalogues. Thereafter, she has focused on strengthening the museum’s Chinese, Japanese, and Korean holdings, and on presenting the collections in the East Asian galleries and VMFA’s website.
Dr. Sylvain Cordier is the Paul Mellon Curator and Head of the Department of European Art. Born and raised in Paris, France, he received his PhD in art history from the Paris-Sorbonne University in 2009. Originally a specialist of eighteenth-century and nineteenth-century decorative arts, he has expanded research in the dialogue between decorative and visual arts, the relationship between artistic creation and discourses of power, and the art of portraiture in pre-contemporary Europe.
Before joining VMFA, Cordier held several positions in academia and museums in Europe and North America. He began as a curatorial assistant at Musée Gustave Moreau and later assistant curator at the Castle of Versailles before becoming a lecturer at Sorbonne University. After completing his PhD, he was received as Jane and Morgan Whitney Fellow at the Department of Drawings and Prints at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. In 2010-2011 he was granted a postdoctoral fellowship at the Getty Research Institute. Cordier joined the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts as curator of early decorative arts in 2013. In Montreal, he cocurated "Fabulous Fabergé", the local venue of VMFA’s travelling exhibition of the Pratt collection of Fabergé jewelry, and an exhibition focused on Rodin’s studio that was received by VMFA in 2015. He was the organizing curator of the critically acclaimed international exhibition "Napoleon: The Imperial Household", which was presented at VMFA in 2018 under the title "Napoleon. Power and Splendor". Cordier joined VMFA in November 2019.
Valerie Cassel Oliver is the Sydney and Frances Lewis Family Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. Prior to this position, she spent sixteen years at the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston, Texas, where she was senior curator. She was director of the Visiting Artist Program at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and a program specialist at the National Endowment for the Arts. In 2000, she was one of six curators selected to organize the Biennial for the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York. Cassel Oliver has organized numerous exhibitions including the acclaimed Double Consciousness: Black Conceptual Art Since 1970 (2005); Cinema Remixed and Reloaded: Black Women Artists and the Moving Image with Dr. Andrea Barnwell Brownlee (2009); Hand + Made: The Performative Impulse in Art and Craft (2010); and Radical Presence: Black Performance in Contemporary Art, (2012), which toured through 2015. Cassel Oliver has also mounted numerous solo exhibitions including a major retrospective on Benjamin Patterson, Born in the State of Flux/us, as well as the surveys Donald Moffett: The Extravagant Vein (2011); Jennie C. Jones: Compilation (2015); Angel Otero: Everything and Nothing (2016) and most recently, Annabeth Rosen: Fired, Broken, Gathered, Heaped (2017). Her forthcoming exhibition, “Howardena Pindell: What Remains to be Seen,” is co-organized with Naomi Beckwith, Larry and Marilyn Fields Curator at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago (MCA). The retrospective will open at the MCA Chicago in February before traveling to the VMFA in August, 2017 and later, the Rose Art Museum at Brandies University in 2018.
Dr. Sarah Eckhardt VMFA’s Associate Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art, joined the museum in 2011. She received her BA from Valparaiso University and her MA and PhD from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where she was awarded a Henry Luce Dissertation Fellowship for her dissertation, Hedda Sterne and the Abstract Expressionist Context. At VMFA her department is responsible for the museum’s early 20th-century European holdings as well as the mid-to-late 20th-century and 21st-century collections, including photography and the sculpture garden. Before coming to VMFA, she worked at the Krannert Art Museum at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign and at The Menil Collection in Houston, Texas.
Alexis Assam, Regenia A. Perry Assistant Curator of Global Contemporary Art, joined the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in 2021. She is the Assistant Curator in the Department of Modern and Contemporary Art which is responsible for the museum’s early 20th-century European holdings as well as the mid-to-late 20th-century and 21st-century collections. Assam received her BA and MA in Art History from Florida State University. Before coming to the VMFA she worked at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, as the Constance E. Clayton Curatorial Fellow in the Contemporary Art department. While at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, she played an integral role in the Philadelphia presentation of “Senga Nengudi: Topologies” (2021). Prior to her time at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Assam worked as the Romare Bearden Graduate Museum Fellow at the Saint Louis Art Museum, where she co-curated “The Shape of Abstraction: Selections from the Ollie Collection” (2019).
Dr. Johanna Minich, Assistant Curator of Native American Art, received both her B.A. and M.A. in art history from University of Georgia in Athens, and her PhD in art history from Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond. She has taught art history courses at several colleges, universities and the VMFA. She was a contributing editor on Pre-Columbian Pottery: A Thematic Approach to New World Ceramics, published by University of Florida Press in 2017. The volume includes her work titled “The Importance of Symmetry in Defining Caddo Relationships: A synthesis of perspectives,” in which she utilizes the methodology of symmetry analysis to gain insight into Caddo religion, ritual and social organization. In 2012 she was selected to participate in an Art Crime Investigation Seminar organized by Robert Wittman, founder of the FBI’s Art Crime Team. She is a guest lecturer on the topic of art crime and the looting of Pre-Columbian sites through the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts’ Speaker On the Arts program. She has curated two state-wide exhibitions titled Hear My Voice: Native American Art of the Past and Present, and In Our Own Words: Native Impressions 2015-2016. She is currently working on a print exhibition for Spring, 2021.
Dr. Sarah Kennel joined VMFA in 2021 as the inaugural Aaron Siskind Curator of Photography and Director of the Raysor Center for Works on Paper. A specialist in nineteenth and twentieth-century photography, Kennel has curated, published, and presented widely on topics ranging from nineteenth-century French photography and historic photographic processes to European modernism and understudied women photographers. She has also written extensively on the relationship between painting and photography in 19th-century France and completed a dissertation on the relationship between dance and the visual arts in early twentieth-century culture.
Before joining VMFA, Kennel held positions at the High Museum of Art, Atlanta, where she most recently curated an exhibition on women photographers and the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Massachusetts, where she co-curated the acclaimed touring exhibition Sally Mann: A Thousand Crossings as well as a retrospective of the work of Olivia Parker. Dr. Kennel launched her curatorial career at the National Gallery of Art, Washington. There, she organized the exhibitions Charles Marville: Photographer of Paris, Diaghilev and the Golden Age of the Ballets Russes, 1909–1929: When Art Danced with Music, The Serial Portrait: Photography and Identity in the Past 100 Years, and In the Darkroom: Photographic Processes before the Digital Age. Kennel holds a doctorate and a Master of Arts in art history from the University of California, Berkeley and a Bachelor of Arts from Princeton University.
Dr. John Henry Rice, E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Curator of South Asian and Islamic Art, joined the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in 2008. He received his B.A. in Art and Architectural History from Wesleyan University and an M.A. and Ph.D. in the History of Art from the University of Pennsylvania. A specialist in medieval and early modern South Indian art and architecture, his first task at VMFA was to lead the reinstallation of its world-class South Asian and Himalayan collections. He has written and lectured on subjects as diverse as symbolic architecture, medieval sculpture, and 20th-century photography. In 2019, he co-curated the traveling exhibition Awaken: A Tibetan Buddhist Journey Toward Enlightenment, and he is now organizing a focused retrospective of the work of Nepalese-born Tibetan-American artist Tsherin Sherpa.