TREVOR SCHOONMAKER took on a new role at the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University this week. He was appointed Deputy Director of Curatorial Affairs and Patsy R. and Raymond D. Nasher Curator of Contemporary Art.

Schoonmaker, 47, has been with the museum virtually from its beginning. The Nasher Museum opened in 2006 and he joined a year later as founding curator of contemporary art. He was named chief curator of the museum in 2013. The newly created deputy director position will expand his curatorial leadership with administrative and fundraising responsibilities.

“I am looking forward to working even more closely with Trevor to shape the next phase for the Nasher,” Sarah Schroth, the Nasher Museum’s director said in a staement. “He has proven to be a gifted leader in addition to an exceptional and brilliant curator. This is a promotion long overdue!”

“I am looking forward to working even more closely with Trevor to shape the next phase for the Nasher. He has proven to be a gifted leader in addition to an exceptional and brilliant curator.”
— Sarah Schroth, Director of the Nasher Museum

Over the course of his tenure at the Nasher Museum, Schoonmaker’s curatorial vision has shaped the museum’s contemporary art exhibition and acquisition program. From the beginning, he has emphasized diverse and emerging artists, and artists historically underrepresented and overlooked by mainstream institutions. He has recognized and collaborated with many artists early on who years later experienced widespread acclaim.

In 2008, Schoonmaker organized “Barkley Hendricks: Birth of the Cool,” a painting survey that focused primarily on the Hendricks’s cool pose portraits. Featuring works from 1964 to 2007, the exhibition was the first to span the arc of his practice. Incredibly well received, “Birth of the Cool,” arguably, changed the career trajectory of both the artist and the curator. Schoonmaker’s exhibitions have also included a three-artist show with Mark Bradford, William Cordova and Robin Rhode (2007); a solo exhibition with Wangechi Mutu (2013), her first survey in the United States; and a group show exploring the South through contemporary art (2016), which he co-curated.

Guided by Schoonmaker, important acquisitions going back a decade or so have included “Bahsir (Robert Gowens)” (1975), a triple portrait by Hendricks brought into the museum’s collection in 2007; Kerry James Marshall’s “Portrait of the Artist & a Vacuum” (1981) purchased in 2011; and “I Looked and Looked to See What so Terrified You from the Louisiana Project” (2003) by Carrie Mae Weems acquired in 2014. New acquisitions include Henry Taylor’s “Hammons meets a hyena on holiday” (2016) and works by Amy Sherald, Nina Chanel Abney and Genevieve Gaignard.

Years of acquisitions have culminated in a forthcoming exhibition that explores the museum’s collecting strategy. Curated by Schoonmaker, “People Get Ready: Building a Contemporary Collection” opens in September. The exhibition features works by more than three dozen artists dating from 1970 through 2018 that engage a variety of social and cultural issues.

SCHOONMAKER RECEIVED an undergraduate degree in art history from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and earned a master’s in the history of art from the University of Michigan. He was an independent curator in New York before he arrived at the Nasher Museum. During that time, he organized “Black President: The Art and Legacy of Fela Anikulapo-Kuti,” which opened at the New Museum in 2003 and traveled to venues in San Francisco, London, and Cincinnati.

“Ultimately, I hope more people agree that contemporary art is not for a select few or the elite, but that the best work speaks to all of us on some level.” — Trevor Schoonmaker, Burnaway

For a few years, Schoonmaker split his time between the Nasher Museum and New Orleans, where served as artistic director of Prospect.4: The Lotus in Spite of the Swamp (2017-2018). In an interview with Burnaway, he was asked what he hoped visitors would take away from the New Orleans triennial. As museums figure out how to be in this moment and the next, his response reflects an important philosophy that contemporary art, well-curated contemporary art, can resonate with a broad audience.

“The ideal take-away could vary, based on a visitor’s background and perspective. For art world professionals, I hope that there are discoveries, surprises, and deep engagement. For those who have not spent a lot of time with contemporary art, an ideal encounter would involve finding relevancy to their lives and issues that are important to them,” Schoonmaker said.

“Ultimately, I hope more people agree that contemporary art is not for a select few or the elite, but that the best work speaks to all of us on some level. My wish is that locals and visitors, newcomers and insiders, feel that Prospect.4 presents thought-provoking work that is relevant to the moment that we are living in, as well as meaningful to the city of New Orleans.” CT


IMAGE: Trevor Schoonmaker. | Photo by Sophie Lvoff, Courtesy Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University


“Prospect.4: The Lotus in Spite of the Swamp” documents the most recent edition of Prospect New Orleans for which Trevor Schoonmaker served as artistic director. A second edition of “Barkley L. Hendricks: Birth of the Cool” was recently published. The catalog complements the 2008 traveling exhibition Schoonmaker organized at the Nasher Museum of Art and features an interview with the artist conducted by Thelma Golden. “Wangechi Mutu: A Fantastic Journey” and “Southern Accent: Seeking the American South in Contemporary Art” also document exhibitions curated by Schoonmaker.


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