Brooklyn Museum’s American Art Reinstallation Will Center Black Feminist Artists

The cultural sea change at arts institutions has been visible in major and minor ways. But the Brooklyn Museum, which has fostered a strong connection to the diverse community in which it is located, will use its 200th anniversary this fall to make a major forward-looking statement about the role of museums in the 21st century.

“This is a new era for museums and at the Brooklyn Museum we have been working really hard to meet the moment,” said Anne Pasternak, the museum’s director, during a media briefing Thursday at the museum’s restaurant, The Norm.

That will include two landmark exhibits opening Oct. 4, and kicking off the museum’s yearlong anniversary celebration: “The Brooklyn Artists Exhibition” is a major group show highlighting the borough’s artists and curated by a committee that includes artists Jeffrey Gibson, Vik Muniz, Mickalene Thomas and Fred Tomaselli; and a major reinstallation of the museum’s American Art galleries foregrounding Black feminist artists and BIPOC perspectives and led by Stephanie Sparling Williams, the museum’s Andrew W. Mellon Curator of American Art.

The museum, which first opened its doors in October 1824, will roll out numerous additional exhibits and initiatives throughout its anniversary year: “Museum on Wheels” (July) is a tricked-out airstream trailer, which will travel to local communities offering experiential art programs; “Solid Gold” (November) explores the role of the most precious metal in art history, fashion and global culture from first-century funerary masks to the metallic hued couture of Dior, Schiaparelli, Ferré and more; “Brooklyn Made” (February 2025) features art and design made in Brooklyn from the 19th century to today.

LauraWheelerWaring WomanwithBouquetC1940

Laura Wheeler Waring’s “Woman With Bouquet” c. 1940, is among the paintings that will be displayed in the Brooklyn Museum’s reinstallation of its American Art galleries.

Courtesy Brooklyn Museum

There also will be an exhibit unveiling recent acquisitions given in honor of the museum’s anniversary. Those works are still under wraps, said Pasternak, but she characterized some of them as “transformative.”

The museum also will present “Nancy Elizabeth Prophet: I Will Not Bend an Inch,” the first major retrospective of the sculptor who, in 1918, became the first person of color to graduate from the Rhode Island School of Design, and went on to work in Paris during the interwar years. The exhibit, which will debut at the RISD Museum, opens at the Brooklyn Museum in March 2025.

The museum — which has mounted blockbuster fashion exhibits — including Christian Dior, Thierry Mugler and, most recently, Africa Fashion — has doubled its attendance and endowment in recent years, Pasternak said. And it has very intentionally used data to chart a course for the future. “Who is coming and why? What do they like? What do they not like?” added Pasternak. “What does it mean to truly serve the viewer?”

It has also used the anniversary to mine its own collection for overlooked pieces; the reinstallation of the American Art galleries, for instance, will include 450 works, nearly a third of which have never before been installed.

Pasternak also detailed the many less sexy and behind-the-scenes improvements that the museum has undertaken recently including a pollinator garden and honey bee houses on the museum’s roof, a new boiler system, more and actually comfortable seating in galleries (spurred by feedback from visitors), a revamped 9,500-square-foot education center (which opened in January), a redesigned website (coming in July) and a sorely needed new phone system because, as she noted, the old phone system was unsustainable since “the two guys who know how to fix it are now in their late 90s.”

And KP Trueblood, the museum’s president and chief operating officer who was hired in 2021 after a stint in the Obama White House, stressed that the museum’s fundraising efforts also have gone toward prioritized hiring (the museum’s staff is comparatively small with 300 full-time employees) and paying competitive salaries, “so you don’t have to have a trust fund to come work at a museum.”

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