Published: November 9, 2021
The Bruce Museum in Greenwich, Conn., recently named Margarita Karasoulas, PhD, as curator of art. When she jumps into her new role there on November 29, she will be tasked with organizing exhibitions of major historic and contemporary artists, building the permanent collection and collaborating with curators, designers, program staff and museum and board leaders to support the Bruce’s mission. We sat down with Karasoulas to get her take on what she envisions her new duties will encompass at an institution that is undergoing a transformative expansion and renovation project.
Congratulations on your new role! The museum hired an executive management firm to find you in a national search. What did you think when presented with the opportunity?
I thought it was a tremendous opportunity to be involved as the museum embarks on an ambitious rebranding campaign and expansion, which will encompass the William L. Richter Art Wing as well as new community spaces that will allow us to engage audiences in more robust ways. As a former intern at the Bruce, this opportunity to make an impact was appealing to me both personally and professionally. I am especially looking forward to expanding and diversifying the permanent collection and helping to shape the exhibitions program at the New Bruce.
You come from the Brooklyn Museum where you served a four-year stint as assistant curator of American art. What aspects of your experience there are you bringing to the Bruce?
I served as the assistant curator of American art for four years and was also fortunate to run the American art department for nearly two years, which provided me with a solid leadership foundation. At the Brooklyn Museum I was deeply invested in its mission of social justice. I believe that my scholarship and commitment to inclusive narratives of art history, as well as my experience working with a range of collections, will serve me well in this new role.
Tell us a bit about some of the key exhibitions you curated there, and about some of your previous roles.
I curated “William Trost Richards: Experiments in Watercolor,” 2018, and “Rob Wynne: FLOAT,” 2018-2019, a contemporary art intervention in the American Art galleries, in addition to contributing to cross-collection exhibitions at the Brooklyn Museum, such as the reinstallation of the Luce Center for American Art, 2020. In prior years I curated “The Puzzling World of John Sloan,” 2015, as the Alfred Appel Jr curatorial fellow at the Delaware Art Museum, along with several shows while at the Bruce Museum, including the 2016 exhibition “Electric Paris.”
Your background in Nineteenth and early Twentieth Century American art has a special focus on issues of race and representation. Greenwich and Brooklyn are only 35 miles distance from one another but world’s away in terms of demographics. What role do you believe a museum should have in speaking to, entertaining and educating people beyond its immediate community?
My scholarship addresses issues of race and representation, including the ways in which racism and inequities of power manifest visually throughout the history of American art. At the Bruce, I will continue to bring my training and academic background to bear on the collections and exhibitions program. For instance, I am thinking about possible loan exhibitions focusing on Twentieth Century immigrant artists that expand on the work of my dissertation, which explored the art of the Ashcan School in the context of period debates about immigration.
I believe that the role of the museum has never been more crucial. At the New Bruce, we have a responsibility to enhance the diversity and accessibility of our collections, present inclusive and transparent narratives, and engage meaningfully with our communities, especially those beyond the immediate vicinity of Greenwich. With the museum’s new focus on art from 1850 to the present, I am especially excited about the work we can do to center women artists and artists of color as we deepen and expand our understanding of Modernism.
One of your tasks on day one will be to engage in preparations for the inaugural exhibitions that will open the newly expanded museum later next year – the museum’s transformative $60 million capital expansion plan. Your thoughts on having significant space to show the museum’s permanent art collection in four new galleries?
When the new building opens, the art collection will be on display in dedicated galleries for the first time in the museum’s history! As a curator, it is thrilling to work from an entirely blank slate. I will relish this opportunity to dive into the research and to think across media and collections as I conceive of new themes for the reinstallation.
It’s a bit of a homecoming for you, having served as the Bruce’s Zvi Grunberg resident intern in 2012-2013 and returning in 2016 to guest curate “Electric Paris.” What was the theme of that show and how did it fit the Bruce’s mission to be at the intersection of art and science?
Focusing on Paris’s longstanding reputation as “The City of Light,” the exhibition examined the proliferation of gas and electric lighting across the city during the late Nineteenth and early Twentieth Centuries within the broader context of the era’s visual and material culture. “Electric Paris,” 2016, was an expanded iteration of a show first organized by the Clark Art Institute and S. Hollis Clayson, who served as the exhibition advisor for the Bruce Museum. As I developed the show with the museum’s mission and audience in mind, I included a broader range of artists working within a transatlantic context and paid particular attention to scientific developments in lighting in France as well as in the United States. To complement the exhibition, we also hosted “Electricity” in the Science Gallery, which was organized by The Franklin Institute.
Looking to the future, I am excited to work closely with the Bruce Museum’s curator of science, Dr Daniel Ksepka, as we conceive of cross-collection installations and loan exhibitions that think creatively and expansively about the intersections of art and science.
At the New Bruce, what do you envision as the right balance between international Modern and contemporary art and its historical collections?
Achieving the right balance will be key: we need to highlight our historical collections while also presenting shows of Modern and contemporary art that use history as a point of departure and/or offer new possibilities for understanding our present moment. But I see the art of the past as informed by the present and vice versa. Whether through my research on discourses of race and immigration in New York City circa 1900 or the ways in which environmental concerns and attitudes about nature have evolved in the United States from the Nineteenth Century to the present day, much of my scholarship on historical American art is steeped in contemporary thinking. At the Bruce, I hope to make relevant connections between the past and present for our visitors.
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