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DIA Curatorial Departments are Restructured and Re-Aligned

Friday, September 26, 2003

Museum’s Program of Continuous Improvement Moves Forward

September 26, 2003–As part of an ongoing examination of its operations and commitment to the pursuit of excellence, the Detroit Institute of Arts has restructured its core resource: the curatorial departments. Some departments have been merged and several individuals reassigned but no staff reductions result from the reorganization and public programs remain entirely unaffected.

The overall number of departments has been reduced from ten to eight but the total number of staff members has increased by three full-time positions. All curatorial departments, as well as the Conservation Services Laboratory and the Research Library report to chief curator Dr. George Keyes, who is also the Elizabeth and Allan Shelden Curator of European Paintings.

This reorganization is heavily influenced by the detailed planning toward the reinstallation of the museum’s collections following completion of its building project. The museum staff is re-thinking the way the entire collection is displayed, which will result in an entirely new layout and presentation in 2006. Initial reinstallation plans focus on the artistic development and achievements of successive civilizations over broad geographic areas, and the curatorial department structure will reflect closely the long-term deployment of the collection.

Africa, Oceania and the Indigenous Americas
Under the direction of Dr. Nii Quarcoopome, curator of African art, this department includes the museum’s African, Egyptian, Native American, Pre-Columbian and Oceanic collections. William Peck, curator of Egyptian art, has been assigned to this department, recognizing the geographic location of Egypt in Africa.

“In addition to reflecting geographic orientation, we are also acknowledging evolving
scholarship in this area,” said Graham W.J. Beal, museum director. “While we continue
to recognize Egypt’s established historic relationships across the Mediterranean sea, we are also exploring new scholarship and archaeological research indicating Egyptian contacts with sub-Saharan Africa.”

Middle Eastern, Islamic and Asian Art

Although this new department embraces the entire Asian continent, its title is designed to emphasize the main components within its purview. The DIA’s ancient Middle Eastern, early Christian and Islamic collections represent the wealth and complexity of this region’s artistic heritage. The DIA possesses one of the better collections of Islamic art among American museums, which provides a strong foundation for further development. Given the relevance of Islamic art to the large Arab-American population of metropolitan Detroit, the museum will bring new focus to this area with the appointment of a curator of Islamic art to head the new department. While an international search is underway, Elsie Peck, curator of Middle Eastern Art, will direct the department. The museum’s existing department of Asian Art completes this area.

“Our current East Asian collection has many striking pieces,” said Keyes, “but there is no critical mass in any single area that allows us to relate the complex stories told so effectively in other parts of the collection. Given the very high quality of individual works of art, we need to look carefully at the Asian collection, identify areas of concentration and begin to build a more coherent collection.”

European Art

The new structure re-unites all aspects of European art (painting, sculpture and decorative arts) in one department under the direction of Dr. George Keyes. The new department will include European Modern art to 1950 under the direction of curator, MaryAnn Wilkinson.
“This change, in particular, recognizes and removes an artificial distinction that divided European art at the turn of the last century,” said Keyes. “ There is a continuity in European art that extends until World War II, when American artists began to assert their primacy. Consequently, the differences in modernist art before the war now appear negligible.”

The other significant addition to this department is the area of ancient Greek and Roman art under the direction of Dr. Penelope Slough. This move acknowledges the Greco-Roman tradition as one of the foundations of European civilization and reflects the abiding importance of Greek and Roman art in the development of the European aesthetic. “Acknowledging and exploring this relationship will provide fresh insights for our visitors,” Keyes said.

American Art

This department includes the DIA’s significant collection of American art and extends its reach through American Modernism (1950). The department structure remains the same, although the DIA is launching a national search for a department head.

“We are looking for an individual to position the DIA as the leading institution in the interpretation and presentation of American art,” Beal said. “With one of the most significant collections of American art in the country, we are determined to find a scholar who can engage our visitors and further strengthen this amazing collection.”

Contemporary Art

The DIA will soon launch a national search for a new curator of Contemporary Art. With modern art moving into the European and American departments, the museum has paved the way to bring new attention and immediacy to the art of our time.

“We’re still examining this position to determine how best to serve the needs of the museum and of the very active collecting community in metropolitan Detroit,” Beal said. “We’ve even considered hiring guest curators on limited-term contracts to ensure the department is always presenting new perspectives. Until we finalize our plans, the department will remain under the very capable leadership of MaryAnn Wilkinson.”

The following departments remain unaffected by the reorganization:
–General Motors Center for African American Art
–Graphic Arts
–Film and Video

The DIA has been examining its entire organization to ensure that the museum is operating at maximum efficiency and using its resources – human and material – as effectively as it can. The reorganization of the curatorial departments is another step in this on-going process.