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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.
Richard B. Woodward is the founding curator of VMFA’s African art collection and, since 1977, has grown the collection to more than 1,000 works of art. With an MA in art history from the University of Virginia and a BA in art history from Rutgers University, Woodward joined the museum’s staff in 1975. He has since held several senior administrative positions, including Interim Director in 2000 and Senior Deputy Director for Architecture and Design from 2000-2010. In that role, Woodward coordinated the planning and construction of VMFA’s most recent award-winning expansion, the James W. and Frances Gibson McGlothlin Wing.
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, Associate Curator of American Painting and Decorative Art, 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 American material culture of the colonial and revolutionary periods, she has written and lectured on topics ranging from colonial portraiture to period interiors. A member of the installation teams for VMFA’s new 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 current projects include a forthcoming exhibition, “Art in Revolution: Tracing John Singleton Copley’s Mrs. Isaac Royall.”
Christopher C. Oliver, Assistant Curator of American Art, is currently a PhD candidate in the history of art and architecture at the University of Virginia, where he received his MA in 2008. He also holds a BA in art history from the University of Richmond. Oliver’s particular interests in American art encompass painting, sculpture, and prints of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. He has presented papers at museums and universities across the country on topics ranging from plantation life in the colonial South to the popular vogue for panorama paintings in the mid-nineteenth century. Before joining VMFA’s staff in 2013, Oliver worked as an Education Assistant at Reynolda House Museum of American Art as well as a guest curator at the University of Virginia Art Museum for John Toole: Itinerant Painter (2008). He also assisted in the research and publication of Matisse, Picasso, and Modern Art in Paris, a VMFA-UVA collaborative exhibition (2010). His dissertation research has been supported by several predoctoral fellowships from Winterthur Museum & Library, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Henry Luce Foundation, and VMFA.
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. He received a Certificate of Museum Studies in 1997 and a PhD in classical art and archaeology in 2004 from the University of Southern California, where he wrote the dissertation Seer or Victim? The Figure of Marsyas in Roman Art, Religion, and Politics under the supervision of John Pollini. He received his BA in classical languages and literature from the University of Chicago in 1987. His specialty is Roman art, with a focus on the intersection of art and culture, particularly art and religion. His current projects include a study of the original polychromy of the Arch of Titus and an examination of the Second Temple in Jerusalem in its Roman context. 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. Previous to joining VMFA in August 2007, she served as Kettering Curator of Asian Art at the Dayton Art Institute from 1995, and before that 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). She received a BA in English and management in Beijing, and an MA degree in the history of art from the University of Minnesota. Since completing the installation of VMFA’s new East Asian galleries, Li has focused on strengthening the museum’s Chinese, Japanese, and Korean holdings. She has organized the major exhibition called Forbidden City which featured the imperial art collection from the Palace Museum, Beijing.
Dr. Mitchell Merling, Paul Mellon Curator and Head of the Department of European Art, has been with the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts since 2005. He previously served as Curator of the Art Museum at the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art and Curator of European Art at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. Before that, Merling held predoctoral and postdoctoral fellowships at the Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts at the National Gallery of Art. In 2013, he published a major section of the Francesco Guardi catalogue for the exhibition at the Museo Correr, Venice. In Fall 2014, he published Catching Sight: The World of the British Sporting Print and in 2015, he co-authored Working Among Flowers: French 19th-century Floral Still-Life Painting, catalog to VMFA’s exhibition: Van Gogh, Manet, Matisse: The Art of the Flower. At VMFA, Merling oversees the Mellon collections of French, British Sporting, and American art, as well as the general European collections from the Middle Ages to the late 19th century. In addition, he serves as the in-house curator of the Gans Collection of English Silver and is also supervising the acquisition of the Frank Raysor Collection of approximately 10,000 European and American prints.
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.
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 is currently working as a contributing editor on Pre-Columbian Pottery: A Thematic Approach to New World Ceramics, to be published by University of Florida Press in 2017. The volume will include 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. At present, she is working on a state-wide exhibition titled Hear My Voice: Native American Art of the Past and Present.
Dr. Lee Anne Hurt Chesterfield holds the position of Advisor for Museum Planning and Board Relations and is Pre-Columbian Specialist at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. Chesterfield received a PhD in art history from Virginia Commonwealth University and a BBA in marketing from James Madison University. She is a specialist in ancient South American art and architecture and her dissertation, entitled The Huacas of Machu Picchu: Inca Stations for the Communion Between Humanity and Nature, argues that huacas, or sacred places, defined the relationship between nature and human ritual practice. She became the Virginia Museum’s first curator of Ancient American Art in 2006 and opened the museum’s first permanent galleries for Pre-Columbian and Native American art in 2010. As the Director of Museum Planning and Board Relations, Chesterfield manages several special projects for the museum including strategic planning as well as Board communications and engagement.
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 as Associate Curator. He received a PhD and MA in the history of art from the University of Pennsylvania, and a BA in art and architectural history from Wesleyan University. 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 in five new galleries. He has written and lectured on subjects as diverse as symbolic architecture, medieval sculpture, and 20th-century photography. He is presently working toward a major traveling exhibition of Himalayan art that will showcase VMFA’s superb Tibetan and Nepalese material.