THE NATIONAL GALLERY OF ART (NGA) announced four new appointments today, including hires for three newly created positions. Kanitra Fletcher is the Washington, D.C., museum’s first-ever associate curator of African American and Afro-Diasporic art.

Chief Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging Officer Mikka Gee Conway and Eric Bruce, head of visitor experience and evaluation, are also inaugurating their positions. In addition, Nick Sharp is joining the museum as chief digital officer, filling a vacancy.

“I am thrilled to announce the appointment of these dynamic new leaders, who will help us to advance our goals to serve the nation by welcoming all people to explore and experience art, creativity, and our shared humanity,” NGA Director Kaywin Feldman said in a statement.

“Each of our new colleagues comes to us with deep expertise in engaging audiences and inspiring curiosity about art, history, and culture. Now more than ever, we must model the America that we expect and hope for. As the nation’s art museum, we must articulate and live up to our values, including excellence, empathy, diversity, inclusion, and deepening the public’s understanding of art.”

Conway started in September 2020, reporting directly to Feldman. She oversees diversity and serves as Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) director. An attorney with art history degrees, Conway previously worked at the J. Paul Getty Trust in Los Angeles, where she was associate general counsel for six years and a founding member of the Getty’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Council.

NGA joins a handful of art museums that have hired an executive focused on diversity in the wake of the racial reckoning that occurred across the nation last summer, with staff and former staff at numerous cultural institutions publicly decrying leadership for either ignoring or fomenting toxic and racist work environments. The Getty was the target of such complaints in July (and issued a response).

FLETCHER’S TENURE at the National Gallery of Art begins Feb. 1. She will focus on modern and contemporary painting and sculpture by African American artists, working within the Department of Modern and Contemporary Art, while also collaborating with other curatorial departments, such as Photographs and Prints and Drawings.

She joins NGA from the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, where she started as a curatorial assistant in 2017, and rose to associate curator. During her tenure in Houston, Fletcher handled major traveling exhibitions, including “Jack Whitten: Odyssey” and “Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power.” She has also been working on “Afro-Atlantic Histories,” a sprawling show organized by the Museu de Arte São Paulo (MASP). The exhibition features a vast selection of “450 works by 214 artists ranging from the 16th to 21st centuries and centered on the ‘ebbs and flows’ among Africa, Americas, Caribbean and also Europe.,” and will be on view at MFA Houston later this year and travel to NGA in 2022.

Kanitra Fletcher joins the National Gallery of Art from the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, where she handled major traveling exhibitions, including “Jack Whitten: Odyssey,” “Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power,” and the forthcoming “Afro-Atlantic Histories.”

Since 2013, Fletcher has also been serving as curator of Landmarks Video, a public art program at the University of Texas at Austin. She received a BA in English literature from Rutgers University-New Brunswick, holds a masters degree in Latin American studies, art history, and Brazilian studies from the University of Texas at Austin, and earned a Ph.D. in the history of art (Black aesthetics and the avant-garde) from Cornell University (2019).

NGA’s collection of African American art was greatly enhanced five years ago when the museum acquired more than 190 works from the nearby Corcoran Gallery of Art after that museum permanently closed. The cache included the Evans-Tibbs Collection, prime works by the likes of Richmond Barthé, Romare Bearden, Aaron Douglas, Palmer Hayden, Lois Mailou Jones, Hughie Lee-Smith, Betye Saar, Henry O. Tanner, Alma Thomas, and Hale Woodruff, among others. Prior to the additions, NGA held about 500 works by African American artists. (The museum’s entire permanent collection numbers more than 150,000.)

The museum has continued to make significant acquisitions of African American art, more recently including nine cartes-de-visite of African-American subjects, Frederick Douglass, among them (2018); four early photographs by Gordon Parks, dating from 1941-49 (2019); and the first works by Theaster Gates (2018), Mickalene Thomas (2020), and John Outterbridge (2020) to enter the collection. In 2020, the museum also acquired a large triptych by Oliver Lee Jackson; five works by Emma Amos; and in late December, NGA announced the addition of 40 works by 21 African American artists from the U.S. South from the Souls Grown Deep Foundation, including nine quilts by Gee’s Bend, Ala., artists.

Announcing the four new hires, the National Gallery of Art said the “positions advance [its] strategic priorities to make the museum more visitor-focused, inclusive, and equitable, as well as to provide deeper connections to the museum’s content through digital access to its collections, exhibitions, programs, and research.” CT

 

IMAGE: Kanitra Fletcher. | Courtesy National Gallery of Art

 

BOOKSHELF
“The Art of Romare Bearden” by Ruth E. Fine documents a major retrospective of Romare Bearden presented at the National Gallery of Art in 2003-04. The exhibition was the first major solo show at the museum dedicated to an African American artist. More recently, “Gordon Parks: The New Tide: Early Work 1940–1950” was published to accompany an exhibition at NGA in 2018-19.

 

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