The Board of Trustees of the Clark Art Institute has selected Olivier Meslay to serve as its Dena and Felda Hardymon Director. Meslay, an accomplished museum professional and noted scholar, will become the Clark’s fifth director when he assumes his new role on August 22. He currently serves as associate director of curatorial affairs, senior curator of European and American art, and The Barbara Thomas Lemmon Curator of European Art at the Dallas Museum of Art (DMA), and brings more than thirty-five years of international experience to his role. Meslay was unanimously elected to the position during a special session of the Clark’s board.
“We are thrilled to welcome Olivier Meslay as our new director,” said Andreas Halvorsen, chairman of the Institute’s Board of Trustees. “Olivier's vision, international experience, and exceptional academic and curatorial qualifications match the Clark’s ambitious aspirations. He comes to the Clark with a deep appreciation for our academic mission, an expert understanding of our museum program, and an energetic perspective on ways to enhance our dual mission and extend the Clark’s reach and impact.”
Since assuming his current position in 2012, Meslay has overseen the DMA’s European and American art collection of more than 4,000 paintings, sculptures, and works on paper, and has managed the museum’s curatorial department, conservation program, and art research library. He has also served as the DMA’s curatorial representative with the French American Museum Exchange (FRAME), a collaborative organization of thirty American and French museums. Meslay served as the DMA’s interim director from 2011–2012, managing a staff of 250 employees, directing an extensive fundraising program, and coordinating donor relations that have provided continuing support for the museum. He joined the DMA staff in 2009 after a distinguished career at the Musée du Louvre in Paris.
“Olivier first came to know the Clark as a Fellow in our Research and Academic Program in 2000, and it was clear from the very beginning that he had a deep affinity for the Clark and for the unique relationship between our museum and research programs,” said Francis Oakley, the Clark’s interim director. “It is heartening to see such a long relationship culminate in this way. Olivier’s passion for the Clark and for Williamstown and the Berkshires, combined with his extraordinary scholarship and leadership, hold great promise for the future.”
Meslay is the author of the recent publication From Chanel to Reves: La Pausa and Its Collections at the Dallas Museum of Art (2015). He served as the co-organizing curator for Mind’s Eye Masterworks on Paper from David to Cézanne (2014) and co-organized the exhibition Chagall: Beyond Color (2013) for the DMA. Meslay was the organizing curator of an exhibition commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, Hotel Texas: An Art Exhibition for the President and Mrs. John F. Kennedy (2013). The exhibition brought together works of art installed in the presidential suite at Hotel Texas during Kennedy’s November 1963 trip to Dallas.
The European art collection at the DMA is recognized for the strength of its holdings of eighteenth-, nineteenth-, and twentieth-century paintings, sculpture, and works on paper. During his tenure, Meslay has been instrumental in leading the acquisition of several important works including paintings by Gustave Caillebotte, Ernest Ludwig Kirchner, Paul Signac, Ramon Casas, Guillaume Guillon Lethière, Antoine Giroust, and Edouard Vuillard, as well as sculptures by Anne Whitney and Auguste Préault.
Meslay held a variety of leadership positions at the Musée du Louvre over a period of seventeen years from 1993―2009. He served as curator in charge of British, American, and Spanish paintings from 1993–2006; as chief curator of Louvre–Atlanta, a collaborative project with the High Museum, from 2003–2006; and as chief curator in charge of the Louvre–Lens project, the first regional branch of the Louvre. During his tenure at the Louvre, Meslay organized such exhibitions as William Hogarth (2006‒2007), American Artists and the Louvre (2006), L’art anglais dans les collections de l’Institut (2004), Constable, Le choix de Lucian Freud (2002) and La collection de Sir Edmund Davis (1999). Meslay also served as a professor at the École du Louvre from 1997–2000 and 2003‒2006.
“The Clark Art Institute has always been, for me, a unique institution blending in perfect balance a refined, strong, and seductive museum; a forum shaping the present and the future of art history through its Research and Academic Program; and a teaching institution thanks to its unique partnership with the Williams College Graduate Program in the History of Art,” said Meslay. “Adding to all of this is the beauty of the Clark’s natural environment, which is undoubtedly integral to its identity. My longstanding relationship with the Clark now comes to fruition as if in a dream-come-true, but also as a great opportunity to maintain, at the highest level of excellence, what this institution brings to the art world.”
In 2009, the French government honored Meslay as a Chevalier des Arts et Lettres in recognition of his contributions to furthering French arts and culture throughout the world. A graduate of the Institut National du Patrimoine (1992–1993), the French State School for Curators, Meslay received an MA from the École du Louvre in 1983, having previously received an MA from the Sorbonne in 1982, where he also earned his BA in 1981. He is a member of the editorial board of The British Art Journal, London, and is a member of the Société d’Histoire de l’Art Français, Paris.
Meslay is the author of several books, including Mind’s Eye: Masterworks on Paper from David to Cezanne (2014); Turner, Life and Landscape (2005); and J.M.W. Turner, The Man Who Set Painting on Fire (2005). He has published extensively on the Franco-British artistic relationship in both the United States and Europe, and has contributed essays to numerous exhibition catalogues.
Meslay’s wife, Laure de Margerie, is a noted scholar on French sculpture and was also a Clark Fellow in 2000–2001. She spent most of her career at the Musée d’Orsay before becoming the founding director of the French Sculpture Census—a comprehensive survey of French sculpture in American public collections—in 2009. Meslay and de Margerie are the parents of three adult children.
Chosen after an international search conducted with the assistance of Korn Ferry, New York, Meslay replaces Michael Conforti, who retired from the Clark in August 2015.