The Peabody Essex Museum seeks a curatorial leader with deep experience in South Asian art, and a track record developing engaging exhibitions. The Curator of South Asian Art will be active in global circles, well versed in current developments in the field, and adept at teasing out connections between diverse South Asian art forms and cultural traditions and with broader historical and contemporary art and culture.
Recently, the Peabody Essex Museum embarked on a dramatic paradigm-shifting transformation and expansion, in keeping with its ambition and promise as a museum that values creativity, innovation, change, and the unexpected. The museum’s internationally distinctive strengths in South Asian, East Asian, and Asian Export art and culture, already central to this mission, will play an even greater role in this next, highly aspirational chapter. PEM’s curatorial team is adventurous and generates fresh interpretation, appreciation, and thought leadership related to art, culture, and creative expression, especially in the context of an increasingly interconnected and global dialogue. To this end, the museum seeks an innovative curator with experience in South Asian, especially Indian, art and a strong commitment to interpretation and programming.
Founded in 1799 in Salem, Massachusetts, 15 miles from Boston, the Peabody Essex Museum is the oldest continuously operating museum in the United States. Now among the top 8% of American art museums, PEM is also one of the nation’s fastest growing art museums, and operates on a global stage in terms of networks, partners, and patronage.
PEM has achieved a singular record of growth over the last decades. In 2003, PEM completed one of the most striking museum transformations in American history, including exponential growth of the operating budget, and the addition of over 250,000 square feet of new and renovated gallery and public spaces. This includes 26,000 square feet of changing exhibition galleries and 55,000 square feet of galleries devoted to collection installations. In 2011, the museum announced a comprehensive and singular advancement campaign for $650M. The campaign focuses on increasing an already healthy endowment to support an expanded exhibition program; programmatic initiatives ranging from the interpretive to the digital and educational; global leadership initiatives; and an institutional culture of creativity, all in concert with fiscal stability and sound management, based on an annual budget of $31 million.
PEM is adding a 40,000 square-foot wing scheduled to open in summer 2019. It will include 15,000 square feet of galleries for collection installations and additional public and educational spaces. The museum is also developing a 110,000 square-foot offsite collection center for the care and study of the museum’s collection of more than 1 million works. Between 2017 and 2022, PEM will develop new collection installations museum-wide, based on innovative experience, interpretation, and design strategies that reflect the museum’s commitment to drawing on multiple fields of inquiry, including neuroscience.
The museum's many collection areas are among the finest of their kind, showcasing American, Asian and Asian export, African, contemporary, maritime, Native American, and Oceanic art, as well as photography, fashion and textiles, and architecture and design. The museum presents a vibrant schedule of changing exhibitions, many organized by PEM teams and guest curators and circulated nationally and internationally, and others organized by leading museums in North America, Europe, and Asia. Annually, the museum welcomes some 250,000 people. It employs 250 staff and engages over 100 docents in support of PEM’s educational mission.
The Peabody Essex Museum has the highest visitor satisfaction ratings among 75 major museums in the United States, and PEM’s curatorial program is a key reason for this success. PEM’s curatorial approach emphasizes innovation, crisp execution, and close partnership across departments and with external, leading-edge thinkers in a range of fields. This provides significant opportunities for curators to leverage team resources and access to current trends and new developments in various fields. Nine full curators and five Exhibition & Research assistant and associate curators comprise PEM’s curatorial team. This team is the purview of the Deputy Director, who functions as Chief Curator and oversees Collection Services, Exhibition Planning, and Exhibition Design in concert with her executive and fundraising responsibilities.
INDIAN and SOUTH ASIAN COLLECTION
The first American museum to collect art from India, PEM counts among its earliest acquisitions historic works from India. These works are a manifestation of the museum founders’ global purview, a sensibility and historical context that continues to inform PEM’s curatorial work.
Unlike other American museums that emphasize India’s classical art traditions, PEM is preeminent internationally for representing the art of the modern era, from the period of British colonial rule to the present, in what is today India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. Additionally, the extensive Bhutanese textile collection is the most important such collection in an American museum. The museum also houses diverse works from various Southeast Asian cultures, principally from the Philippines, Thailand, Burma, Indonesia, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos, as well as from Tibet and Nepal.
PEM’s diverse Asian export, maritime, photography, fashion, textile, and library holdings complement many aspects of the Indian and South Asian collection. As just one example, PEM’s collection of 19th-century photographs by Lala Deen Dayal is one of the top in the world.
The museum is home to the most important collection of modern Indian art, from the 1700s to the present, outside India.
In 2001, the acquisition of the Chester and Davida Herwitz collection of post-Independence art from India established PEM as the first museum outside of India to focus on the achievements of its modern artists. The Herwitz collection of post-1947 Indian paintings and works on paper—some 1,600 works by approximately 70 artists---remains unparalleled in any American or European museum.
Painting dominates the overall collection, in large measure because of the Herwitz collection, but also because of PEM’s deep holdings in the vernacular Kalighat painting tradition: the museum’s Kalighat paintings constitute one of the top three collections in the world.
The collection of vernacular and regional genres from across the subcontinent has grown to national importance. The Figiel collection of 15th-to-18th century devotional bronzes is a telling counterpoint to India’s classical sculpture traditions not available in other American public collections. Other areas of strength include kantha quilts; colonial-period Indian export decorative art, especially furniture; 18th- and 19th-century British maritime-related prints, drawings and paintings of India; and 19th-century photographs, especially the group by Lala Deen Dayal. PEM’s colonial-era holdings are especially strong, and pose intriguing opportunities to work forward into the 20th and 21st centuries as well as to move back into and through classical Indian art. These elements, along with holdings in other collection areas, contribute to PEM’s ability to explore a multi-faceted approach to Indian and South Asian art and culture.
ASIAN EXPORT ART
Asian export art encompasses works in all media made by artists in China, Japan, India, and Indonesia (among other cultures), specifically for non-local patrons and markets. PEM’s collection is the largest, most comprehensive, and diverse of its type in the world. Among the first objects collected by the museum’s founders were decorative art objects produced in China, Japan, and India for Europeans and Americans. The collection has a particularly strong international profile for Indian export furniture. PEM curators often draw on the Asian export art collection to highlight the impact of cross-cultural exchange.