Two for the Show: Daniel B. Schneider on the Museum of Modern Art's New Curators

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IN MID-SEPTEMBER, six months after appointing John Elderfield chief curator of painting and sculpture [see Artforum, May 2003], the Museum of Modern Art coolly named two new curators, Ann Temkin and Joachim Pissarro, to his department. The hires, which follow a number of significant curatorial departures, come at a pivotal moment in the museum's seventy-four-year history, Temkin and Pissarro, who assume their posts this fall, will work alongside fellow curator Anne Umland, Elderfield, and other department heads to reinstall MOMA'S collection in its vast new midtown quarters, scheduled to open late next year. The reinstallation is widely seen as an opportunity to recast the museum's familiar exegesis of the grand modernist narrative for a more restive, contemporary audience.

Curatorial miracles will no doubt be expected of the new appointees, who will share in what amounts to the complete dismantling and reconstruction of the department's ideological edifice. Elderfield seems to have ample confidence in his new colleagues. "I've followed Ann's career pretty much right through," he says appreciatively. "With Joachim it was more of an accumulation of things. I ended up talking to him about his projects, reading some of the things he's written, and I was struck by his extraordinarily inventive mind." Like Elderfield, Temkin and Pissarro are respected scholars, steeped in the academic and institutional culture that has historically defined the modern movement. Temkin holds degrees in fine arts from Harvard and art history from Yale; Pissarro attended the Sorbonne, London's Courtauld Institute, and the University of Texas at Austin. Both have overseen prominent collections at major American art institutions. Since 1990 Temkin has been curator of modern and contemporary art at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, where she directed the renovation and reorganization of the modern and contemporary galleries; from 1984 to 1987 she was a curatorial assistant at MOMA. Pissarro, who currently teaches contemporary art and theory at Hunter College, New York, was chief curator at the Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth, Texas, from 1994 to 1997 and curator of European and contemporary art at the Yale University Art Gallery from 1997 to 2000, where he presided over the rehanging of the modern and contemporary collection.

If the MOMA reinstallation weren't daunting enough, Temkin and Pissarro enter an enormous void created by the recent departures of Kirk Varnedoe, Kynaston McShine, and Robert Storr from the museum's Department of Painting and Sculpture. Varnedoe, Elderfield's predecessor, left the museum two years ago to teach at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton and died in August after a long illness. McShine, a highly esteemed veteran of the department, was appointed curator at large when Elderfield assumed his post, and Storr, a senior curator specializing in contemporary art, resigned in 2002 to teach at New York University's Institute of Fine Arts.

Given MOMA'S long-standing reputation for giving short shrift to contemporary and emerging artists, it was Storr's departure that prompted the most intense speculation. …