THE CONTEMPORARY ART DEPARTMENT at the Baltimore Museum of Art (BMA) is now led by Jessica Bell Brown. After joining the museum as associate curator of contemporary art in November 2019, Brown was promoted to curator and department head for contemporary art earlier this month. In her new role, she is overseeing a growing collection of the art of our time and managing exhibitions, programming, and a team of five composed of associate curators, curatorial assistants, and fellows.

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

 


Jessica Bell Brown. | Photo by Michael Avedon

 

“Since joining the BMA, Jessica has positioned artists’ voices at the core of her curatorial work, creating new platforms to experience art as envisioned by its makers and bridging institutional and artistic visions and approaches,” Asma Naeem, interim co-director of BMA and Eddie C. and C. Sylvia Brown Chief Curator, said in a statement.

A curator, writer, and art historian, Brown co-organized “A Movement in Every Direction” with Ryan N. Dennis MMA’s chief curator and artistic director of the Center for Art and Public Exchange. Exploring the legacy of the Great Migration of African Americans from the rural South to the industrial North beginning early in the 20th century through the 1970s, the exhibition presents newly commissioned works across a range of mediums by 12 highly regarded 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 goal was to “bring together a group of intergenerational artists with ancestral ties to the South to research and reflect on their personal histories and migration narratives through the lens of their contemporary practices.” A two-volume publication accompanies “A Movement in Every Direction”—a catalog that documents the exhibition and a critical reader of scholarly essays.

“Since joining the BMA, Jessica has positioned artists’ voices at the core of her curatorial work, creating new platforms to experience art as envisioned by its makers 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 wood sculptures. Working with felled timber, Pittsburgh, Pa.-based Mosley, 96, “transforms wood into inventive abstract forms that source inspiration from 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 reinstallation of the BMA’s contemporary art galleries, with associate curator of contemporary art Leila Grothe. When the reinstallation was announced, Brown and Grothe said, “…this reappraisal and reinstallation embraces the porosities of social and cultural histories from which these collection works emerge. We’re listening to the featured artists’ stories and forging new connections. This installation is also an invitation to you. Challenge us. Question us. There is no official accounting of life.” Brown and Grothe also co-curated “Stephanie Syjuco: Vanishing Point (Overlay)” (2021).

PRIOR TO JOINING the Baltimore Museum of Art, Brown served as consulting curator at Gracie Mansion Conservancy in New York, where she organized “She Persists: A Century of Women Artists in New York, 1919-2019” (2018-19). A collaboration with the city’s then-First Lady Chirlane McCray, the exhibition presented 60 works of art by 44 female-identifying artists at Gracie Mansion, the official mayor’s residence.

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

Brown earned an M.A. in art history from Princeton University and has 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 programming project staged at Recess during the summer of 2016. She has also contributed to exhibition catalogs and a variety of arts publications.

OVER THE PAST SEVERAL YEARS, the Baltimore Museum of Art (BMA) has been a fountain of news—announcements about new acquisitions, deaccessions, and appointments, and notable exhibitions and talks—all with a lens toward presenting a more expansive and representative story of art history, with particular attention paid to women, Black artists, and other artists of color.

The transformation was envisioned and led by Christopher Bedford, who became the Baltimore museum’s director 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 headed to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, where he starts as director in June. In Bedford’s wake, the news continues to flow and progress persists.

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 guards, opened March 27. The following week, Brown’s appointment was announced.

About Brown, Naeem said: “Her vision, keen insights, and commitment to artists will be integral as the BMA continues to diversify its collections and expand the narratives of art through its exhibitions and programs.” CT

 

FIND MORE about Jessica Bell Brown on Instagram

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

 

BOOKSHELF
Forthcoming in October, Jessica Bell Brown co-edited the exhibition catalog “A Movement in Every Direction: Legacies of the Great Migration.” She also contributed to “Janiva Ellis: Rats,” the artist’s first monograph, expected to be released April 19, and “Thaddeus Mosley,” the first full overview of the Pittsburgh, Pa., sculptor’s practice. Brown’s writing also appears in “Mario Moore: The Work of Several Lifetimes” and “Benny Andrews Portraits A real person before the eyes.”

 

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