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Amy Brandt, Chrysler's Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art, Remembered

  • NORFOLK, Virginia
  • /
  • May 25, 2015

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Photo of Amy Brandt by Kathy Keeney for the Chrysler Museum of Art, 2011

Esteemed McKinnon Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art died May 15, her Tseng Kwong Chi exhibition currently on view in New York hailed as triumph

The Chrysler Museum of Art community is sad to report the death of our colleague and friend Amy L. Brandt, who died May 15 after a valiant health struggle. She was 37.

"Academically distinguished, deeply passionate, and supremely self-confident, Amy embodied the very best of America’s new generation of art historians," said Chief Curator Jeff Harrison. "It was a joy and a privilege to work with her."

"A bright light has been extinguished far too early," Museum Director Erik Neil said. "The Chrysler will miss her innovative spirit, determination, and passion for art."

Brandt, the Chrysler’s McKinnon Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art, came to Norfolk in 2011 to fill the newly created and endowed position, just as she was completing her Ph.D. from The Graduate Center at The City University of New York. In her time at the Chrysler, Amy oversaw the nearly 2,400 works of art that comprise the Museum’s post-1945 holdings of painting, sculpture, and photography.

"I’ve been deeply impressed by the Chrysler staff and collection, which includes pivotal works from the post-war period," Brandt told The Chrysler Magazine in 2011. "I want to highlight this outstanding collection and bring in new exhibitions of important, cutting-edge contemporary art, and, hopefully, new audiences."

With her usual boundless passion, she wasted no time in doing so. Within months of her arrival, she plumbed the Museum vaults and mounted her first exhibition. Al Capp, Li’l Abner and American Pop Art included 10 comic-inspired prints from the Chrysler Collection that had never before been exhibited.

In her all-too-brief tenure, Brandt organized or curated at least a dozen highly creative installations and exhibitions. Among them were the Chrysler’s renovated and reinterpreted McKinnon Wing of Modern and Contemporary Art, and such shows as Colorama, Mark Rothko: Perceptions of Being, Cities of Light: Photographs from the Chrysler Collection, Diamond Dust: An Installation by Judith Braun, Many Wars: Photography by Suzanne Opton, Pinaree Sanpitak, the contemporary collection-based remix and remix redux, In the Box: Saya Woolfalk, and the 2012 community favorite 30 Americans, contemporary masterpieces of African-American art from the Rubell Collection.

Brandt’s untimely death came during what may well mark her greatest professional success. In April, Tseng Kwong Chi: Performing for the Camera opened at The Grey Gallery at New York University. Brandt had researched, curated, and written the exhibition catalogue for the first major museum retrospective of the work of the Chinese-American photographer and conceptual artist who gained a following in the 1980s as an "ambiguous ambassador" in a signature Mao suit. The show has garnered art-world praise and has been hailed by the New York Times and other national and international press as a must-see exhibition. The acclaimed exhibition will open at the Chrysler, its organizing museum and second venue, in mid-August, and will later travel to the Tufts University Art Gallery and the Block Gallery of Northwestern University.

This kind of inspired scholarship was a hallmark of Brandt’s career. Upon her arrival in Norfolk, with characteristic energy and resolve, Amy immediately began to work to have her doctoral dissertation published. Interplay: Neoconceptual Art of the 1980s, a critical analysis of what had been loosely termed "neo-geo" art, appeared in 2014 under the imprint of The MIT Press. Her work received consistently enthusiastic reviews and marked her as an emerging and distinctive voice in the highly competitive world of contemporary art scholarship, Chief Curator Harrison said.

With a keen eye toward improving an already impressive collection, Brandt also worked strategically and tirelessly to increase the Chrysler’s breadth and quality of modern and contemporary art. Her accessions include Homage to Man Ray by John Henry, three of Jeppe Hein’s Geometric Mirrors, which punctuate the Chrysler’s sculpture walk, and Luke Jerram’s dramatic Chrysler Chandelier. She also acquired Maya Lin’s Caspian Sea, Nick Cave’s extraordinary toy- and joy-filled Sound Suit, and a series of major photographic works by Barkley Hendricks, Suzanne Opton, and Robin Rhode. Thanks to her incisive selections and penchant for pursuing excellence, the Chrysler Collection is all the stronger.

Brandt previously served in various positions at the Brooklyn Museum of Art, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, and the American Federation of Arts in New York. In addition to her degree from CUNY, she earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Michigan, a Master of Arts degree from Tufts University, and a Licencedegree in Art History from the University of Paris IV, la Sorbonne.

The Chrysler Museum staff and trustees extend their sympathy to Amy’s husband, David Arthur, their young daughter, Emma, and her loving family, and to the many others who also counted her as their colleague and friend.

A public memorial service will be held at the Chrysler Museum, One Memorial Place, Norfolk, Va., at a later date.

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