IU Art Museum names new director, David Brenneman of High Museum in Atlanta

  • April 7, 2015


BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Following a national search, David A. Brenneman, director of collections and exhibitions at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, has been appointed director of the Indiana University Art Museum. IU Bloomington Provost and Executive Vice President Lauren Robel made the official announcement today.

Brenneman, who will begin as director July 1, brings more than 20 years of experience in the art museum field and almost 13 years as a senior administrator at the High. He received his Ph.D. in art history from Brown University and also graduated from the Getty Museum Leadership Institute in 2004. He received the Chevalier de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres from the French government in 2008; previous and subsequent recipients of the award, established in 1957, have included such American arts luminaries as T.S. Eliot, Bob Dylan, Meryl Streep and Patti Smith.

Brenneman’s accomplishments include:

  • Leading the Louvre Atlanta project, a three-year series of exhibitions and programs from the Musée du Louvre in Paris, which attracted more than 1.3 million visitors.
  • Serving as managing curator of high-profile loan exhibitions including “Habsburg Splendor: Masterpieces from Vienna’s Imperial Collections,” “Girl with a Pearl Earring: Dutch Paintings from the Mauritshuis” and “Frida & Diego: Passion, Politics, and Painting.”
  • Fostering a partnership with the Museum of Modern Art in New York focused on attracting a younger museum audience.
  • Leading initiatives to acquire major works of art by artists including Monet, Pissarro, Pierre Julien and Degas.
  • Securing a Mellon Foundation grant to fund object-centered research by Emory University graduate students, and working closely with Emory art history professors to develop the program, which recently received a four-year extension.
  • Leading the curatorial team that planned and executed the renovation and reinstallation of the High Museum’s award-winning Richard Meier-designed building, as well as the installation of the permanent collection galleries of Renzo Piano-designed galleries in 2005.

“David Brenneman possesses an exceptional amount of experience and expertise in the art museum field, and he has spearheaded the development of several innovative projects and exhibitions that have proven special in their ability to appeal to longtime arts patrons, while also attracting new audiences to the museum,” IU President Michael A. McRobbie said. “We are fortunate to welcome such a highly accomplished and admired administrator, scholar and curator to build upon the longstanding success of the Indiana University Art Museum, introduce exciting new exhibitions and collaborations, and continue the museum’s tradition of showcasing the very best art from around the world.

“We are also extremely grateful to Heidi Gealt for her many years of outstanding service as director of the IU Art Museum and her efforts to position the museum at the forefront of the best university art museums in the nation,” McRobbie added. “And we look forward to her continued contributions to this IU cultural landmark in her role as director emerita.”

“David will be a fantastic addition to the robust arts and humanities community at IU Bloomington," Robel said. "His forward-thinking and expansive views on art as a cultural experience that should be accessible to everyone are a perfect fit with the educational mission of the IU Art Museum.

“He believes that the museum is an extension of the diverse community it serves, and his deep experience in the global art world will serve Bloomington well. I am thrilled to welcome him to Bloomington and excited about his leadership of this cultural treasure.”

Established in 1941, the IU Art Museum is one of the foremost university art museums in the United States. The space was re-designed and dedicated in 1982 by I.M. Pei, the architect who designed the East Wing of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., and the glass Pyramid and major renovation of the Louvre. The IU Art Museum houses a wide variety of internationally acclaimed collections, including ancient gold jewelry, African masks and paintings by Claude Monet, Jackson Pollock and Pablo Picasso. More than 43,500 objects from nearly every art-producing culture in human history are under the museum’s stewardship.

As director, Brenneman will lead efforts to reflect ethnic and gender diversity in all aspects of collections, exhibitions and daily operations; create more interactive cultural experiences; and engage with museums, collections and curators throughout the world to cultivate relationships that lead to meaningful and important exhibition projects.

“Museums need to be a part of their community, and reflect and lead the diversity and ideals of the community they serve,” Brenneman said. “Bloomington attracts faculty and students from around the world. The IU Art Museum’s collection is special because it contains masterpieces from throughout human history and from all corners of the earth -- and just about everybody’s background is reflected.”

At the High, Brenneman strengthened the collection of works by women, including individual works by Mary Cassatt and Julie Mehretu, among many others. He oversaw acquisition of a self-portrait by Romare Bearden and works by other African-American artists, such as Elizabeth Catlett and Rashid Johnson, as well as the creation of the exhibitions “Road to Freedom: Photographs of the Civil Rights Movement 1956-1968” and “Rising Up: Hale Woodruff’s Murals for Talladega College,” which is on tour to six other museums around the United States.

Brenneman said he’ll spend his first weeks at IU meeting as many people in and around the museum as possible.

“I’m really looking forward to listening and learning,” he said. “When I came to campus, I met a lot of people who deeply impressed me as caring very much about the museum, and it’s going to be important to enhance those connections and maintain an ongoing dialogue.”

He plans to respect the longstanding traditions of the IU Art Museum while opening the museum to a wider range of programs and activities. “The younger generation of museum goers wants to live art, not just appreciate it. That translates into a museum that offers social experiences involving a variety of artistic expressions -- music, performance, hands-on activities such as indie crafting, etc. -- so that the museum is a place where is art is a natural part of social life and student experience.”

Brenneman was selected by a search committee led by Bruce Cole, Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Art History and Comparative Literature and former chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities. Cole said Brenneman brings a wealth of experience and success to the museum.

“At the High Museum, Dr. Brenneman earned an outstanding reputation for series of distinguished exhibitions, scholarship, major acquisitions, and for forging international partnerships,” said Cole, senior scholar at the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C. “I have every confidence that under his leadership the IUAM will go from strength to strength.”

"We are indeed fortunate to have David as the next director of the IU Art Museum,” said search committee member Diane Woosnam, a public art consultant and former director of the Office of Arts and Culture for the City of Philadelphia. “His impressive background, strong international relationships and engaging personality are an excellent fit for the IUAM. We already have a great museum, and David is the perfect person to take it to the next level regionally, nationally and internationally."

“I love art,” Brenneman said. “I love it so much that I made a profession out of it. I want to experience it and live it, and I want to help other people experience and live it, too.”

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