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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. 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 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, Assistant 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 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). Among Oliver’s current projects are an exhibition and catalog considering the Natural Bridge of Virginia as an important site of artistic inspiration and myth-making in the nineteenth century. 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. 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. 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.
Dr. Colleen Yarger, Assistant Curator for European Art and the Mellon Collections, joined the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in 2010. She received a PhD in art history from Virginia Commonwealth University in 2014, an MA in art history from Syracuse University in 2009, and a BS in art education and art history from Nazareth College of Rochester in 2007. Most recently, Yarger has served as co-curator of Hollar’s Encyclopedic Eye: Prints from the Frank Raysor Collection and was the site curator for VMFA banner exhibition Napoleon: Power and Splendor. Previously, she served as the Research Specialist for the Mellon Collections at VMFA. Yarger authored the catalogs for the two internationally traveling exhibitions Van Gogh, Monet, Degas: The Mellon Collection of French Art from the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts and A Sporting Vision: The Paul Mellon Collection of British Sporting Art from the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.
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 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. 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.