President and Eloise W. Martin Director James Rondeau announced Tuesday that after an in-depth national search, Sarah Kelly Oehler has been appointed the new Field-McCormick Chair and Curator of American Art at the Art Institute of Chicago. Oehler succeeds Judith Barter, who retired from the position in December 2016.
Oehler joined the Art Institute in 2002 as an Assistant Curator of American Painting and Sculpture, and most recently served as the Gilda and Henry Buchbinder Curator of American Art, focusing on the modern American art collection. Her current projects include Whistler’s Mother: An American Icon Returns to Chicago (on view until May 21, 2017), and Charles White: A Retrospective (opening June 2018), the first major retrospective of this important African American artist in several decades.
Rondeau offered more insight on the appointment, “Our national search to fill this position confirmed my intuition—that we had the absolute best candidate for the position in Sarah. Time and time again, when we approached respected colleagues in the field for recommendations, she topped their list. The Art Institute is incredibly fortunate to count Sarah among our talented curators since 2002, and I am excited to see new aspirations for the department take shape under her thoughtful leadership.”
Oehler shared, “I am honored and excited to assume this new role at the Art Institute, the institution that has been my professional home for the past fifteen years. The museum’s collection of and commitment to American art is extraordinary, and I look forward to working with James and my exceptional curatorial colleagues to continue building one of the most dynamic, accessible, and scholarly presentations in the country.”
Oehler has contributed to numerous internationally respected exhibitions and publications at the museum, including They Seek a City: Chicago and the Art of Migration, 1910–1950, a ground-breaking exhibition and catalogue focused on the work and impact of immigrant and migrant artists in Chicago (2013); the critically acclaimed Shatter Rupture Break: The Modern Series I (2015), which united diverse aspects of the Art Institute’s collection of modern art; and the highly praised America After the Fall: Painting in the 1930s (2016), exploring the art and culture of the Depression decade.
Previously in her career, Oehler spent time at the Brooklyn Museum of Art and National Gallery of Art. She has lectured and published widely across the United States. Oehler earned a B.A. in History from Yale, and a Ph.D. in American art from Columbia University.