Jessica Bell Brown has been promoted to curator and department head of contemporary art at the Baltimore Museum of Art – 71Bait

THE CONTEMPORARY ART DEPARTMENT at the Baltimore Museum of Art is now headed by Jessica Bell Brown. After joining the museum as Associate Curator, Contemporary Art in November 2019, Brown was promoted to Curator and Department Head, Contemporary Art earlier this month. In her new role, she oversees a growing contemporary art collection and manages exhibitions, programs, and a five-person team made up of associate curators, curatorial assistants, and fellows.

Brown is co-curating A Movement in Every Direction: Legacies of the Great Migration, an ambitious new touring exhibition that opened April 9 at the Mississippi Museum of Art (MMA) in Jackson and is traveling to the Baltimore Museum of Art 30 Oct

Jessica Bell Brown. | Photo by Michael Avedon

“Since joining the BMA, Jessica has placed the voices of artists at the heart of her curatorial work, creating new platforms to experience art as its makers envisioned it and bridging institutional and artistic visions and approaches” , Asma Naeem, interim co-director and The Eddie C. and C. Sylvia Brown chief curator, said in a statement.

As a curator, writer, and art historian, Brown co-organized A Movement in Every Direction with Ryan N. Dennis, Chief Curator and Artistic Director of MMA’s Center for Art and Public Exchange. The exhibition explores the legacy of the great migration of African Americans from the rural South to the industrial North, beginning in the early 20th century through the 1970s, and presents newly commissioned works in a range of mediums by 12 highly respected artists: Akea Brionne, Mark Bradford, Zoë Charlton, Larry W. Cook, Torkwase Dyson, Theaster Gates Jr., Allison Janae Hamilton, Leslie Hewitt, Steffani Jemison, Robert Pruitt, Jamea Richmond-Edwards, and Carrie Mae Weems.

The aim was to “bring together a group of cross-generational artists with ancestral ties to the South to explore and reflect on their personal history and migration narratives through the lens of their contemporary practices.” A two-volume publication accompanies “A Movement in Every Direction” – a catalogue, documenting the exhibition and a critical reading book for scholarly essays.

“Since joining the BMA, Jessica has placed the voices of artists at the heart of her curatorial work, creating new platforms to experience art as its makers envisioned it, and bridging institutional and artistic visions and approaches. “
— Asma Naeem, interim co-director, Baltimore Museum of Art

LAST YEAR AT BMA, Brown curated Thaddeus Mosley: Forest, a presentation of five wooden sculptures. Mosley, 96, of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, works with felled wood and “transforms wood into inventive abstract forms inspired by the art of the African diaspora, jazz and the European modernist avant-garde.”

In 2021, Brown co-organized How Do We Know the World?. a new installation by the BMA Contemporary Art Galleries with Associate Contemporary Art Curator Leila Grothe. When the reinstallation was announced, Brown and Grothe said: “…this reappraisal and reinstallation embraces the porosities of social and cultural history from which these collection works emerge. We’ll listen to featured artists’ stories and make new connections. This installation is also an invitation to you. Challenge us. Ask us. There is no official reckoning of life.” Brown and Grothe also co-curated Stephanie Syjuco: Vanishing Point (Overlay) (2021).

Before joining the Baltimore Museum of Art, Brown was a consulting curator at the Gracie Mansion Conservancy in New York, where she organized She Persists: A Century of Women Artists in New York, 1919-2019 (2018-19). In collaboration with the city’s then First Lady, Chirlane McCray, the exhibition presented 60 artworks by 44 female artists at the Gracie Mansion, the mayor’s official residence.

Previously, Brown was a Museum Research Consortium Fellow in the Department of Painting and Sculpture at the Museum of Modern Art, New York (2016-17). She also held positions at the Brooklyn Academy of Music (2013) and Creative Time in New York (2012).

Brown holds an MA in art history from Princeton University and a bachelor’s degree in art history from Northwestern University. Working with Taylor Renee Aldridge, Kimberly Drew and Jessica Lynne, Brown co-founded Black Art Incubator, a public programs project held at the Recess in the summer of 2016. She has also contributed to exhibition catalogs and a variety of art publications.

IN RECENT YEARS, the Baltimore Museum of Art (BMA) has been a flurry of news—announcements of new acquisitions, deaccessions and appointments, as well as notable exhibitions and lectures—all aimed at presenting a broader and more representative history of art history, with particular emphasis on women, black artists and other artists of color.

The transformation was planned and directed by Christopher Bedford, who became director of the Baltimore Museum in August 2016. During his tenure, Bedford hired Brown as Associate Curator and Naeem as Chief Curator. His departure was announced in February. He is going to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, where he will become director in June. In Bedford’s wake, the news flows on and progress continues.

In March, Naeem and COO Christine Dietze were named interim co-directors of the Baltimore Museum of Art. announced last summer “Guarding the Art,” a collection exhibition guest-curated by BMA security forces, opened on March 27. Brown’s appointment was announced the following week.

Of Brown, Naeem said, “Her vision, astute insights and commitment to artists will be essential as BMA continues to diversify its collections and expand art narratives through its exhibitions and programs.” CT

FIND MORE about Jessica Bell Brown on Instagram

FIND MORE about the Baltimore Museum of Art’s recent acquisitions of contemporary art here and here

Jessica Bell Brown, due out in October, is co-editor of the exhibition catalogue, A Movement in Every Direction: Legacies of the Great Migration. She also contributed to Janiva Ellis: Rats, the artist’s first monograph, due for release April 19, and Thaddeus Mosley, the first complete survey of sculpting practice in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Brown’s writing also appears in Mario Moore: The Work of Multiple Lifetimes and Benny Andrews Portraits A real person before the eyes.

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