The Metropolitan Museum of Art Names Its First-Ever Full-Time Native American Art Curator and Its New Curator For Modern Architecture, Design, and Decorative Arts

  • NEW YORK, New York
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  • September 08, 2020

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American Wing, Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY.
Wikimedia Commons

The Metropolitan Museum of Art named two new curators on Tuesday. Patricia Marroquin Norby (Purépecha) is the museum's inaugural Associate Curator of Native American Art and Abraham Thomas was named for the newly-established position of Daniel Brodsky Curator of Modern Architecture, Design, and Decorative Arts in the Department of Modern and Contemporary Art.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art announced the appointment of Patricia Marroquin Norby (Purépecha) as the Museum's inaugural Associate Curator of Native American Art. On September 14, she will join the staff of the American Wing where historical Native American art is now displayed, under the direction of Sylvia Yount, Lawrence A. Fleischman Curator in Charge. Dr. Norby previously served as Senior Executive and Assistant Director of the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian-New York, and as Director of the D'Arcy McNickle Center for American Indian and Indigenous Studies at The Newberry, in Chicago.

Patricia Marroquin Norby
photo: Scott Rosenthal

In making the announcement, Max Hollein, Director of The Met, said: "I am excited to welcome Patricia Marroquin Norby to The Met after a long and competitive search for our first-ever full-time curator in Native American Art, a position made especially relevant by the landmark 2017 gift of historical Native arts from Met trustee, Charles Diker, and his wife, Valerie. Dr. Norby, an award-winning scholar of Native American art history and visual culture, is also an experienced museum professional, and we look forward to supporting her scholarship and programmatic collaborations with colleagues across The Met as well as with Indigenous communities throughout the region and continent for our diverse international audiences."

Dr. Yount added: "We are thrilled to have Patricia join us in the American Wing, where we've been exploring entangled narratives of cross-cultural encounter and exchange between Native and non-Native individuals and communities, especially since the Fall 2018 debut of Art of Native America: The Charles and Valerie Diker Collection. That ongoing installation of outright and promised gifts of historical Indigenous American works—from the Dikers and others—laid the groundwork for the Museum's new Native arts program, which Patricia will shape and lead at this transformational moment."

Abraham Thomas
photo: Pepe Gomez / Smithsonian Institution

"I am delighted with this opportunity to return to my fine-art roots," says Dr. Norby. "Historical and contemporary Native American art embodies and confronts the environmental, religious, and economic disruptions that Indigenous communities have so powerfully negotiated—and still negotiate—through a balance of beauty, tradition, and innovation. I am deeply honored to join with American Indian and Indigenous artists and communities in advancing our diverse experiences and voices in The Met's exhibitions, collections, and programs. This is a time of significant evolution for the Museum. Max Hollein, Daniel Weiss, and Sylvia Yount are strongly committed to supporting meaningful systematic change. I look forward to being part of this critical shift in the presentation of Native American art."

Patricia Marroquin Norby holds a PhD in American Studies from the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, with a specialization in Native American art history and visual culture, as well as a MFA in printmaking and photography from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Her latest publication, Water, Bones, and Bombs—examining twentieth-century Southwest art production and environmental conflicts among Native, Hispano, and White communities in the northern Rio Grande Valley—is forthcoming from University of Nebraska Press. Dr. Norby also brings extensive teaching experience to The Met, including a position as Assistant Professor of American Indian Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, where she taught historical and contemporary Native American art history and culture at graduate and undergraduate levels.

In this new curatorial role at The Met, Dr. Norby will work directly with Sylvia Yount and other colleagues on collection development and exhibition programming that places Native arts in focus and in dialogue with culturally diverse production. She will also oversee the formation of long-term partnerships and reciprocity with Indigenous American communities, scholars, artists, and audiences in the region and across the continent.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art also announced the appointment of Abraham Thomas as Daniel Brodsky Curator of Modern Architecture, Design, and Decorative Arts in the Department of Modern and Contemporary Art. In this newly established position, Thomas will be responsible for the broad fields of modern architecture, design, and decorative arts, which are now brought together in one role. Thomas will work with the department's curators—as well as colleagues with expertise in field of design arts across the Museum, including the American Wing, Drawings and Prints, European Sculpture and Decorative Art, and The Costume Institute, among others—to build and interpret The Met's collection.

"We are pleased to welcome Abraham to the curatorial faculty of the Museum," said Max Hollein, Director of The Met. "He brings with him vast and varied experience and expertise, as well as a proven enthusiastic embrace of collaboration using an innovative approach. Abraham will be a driving force for our rethinking of how we best present, contextualize and collect the intersections, commonalities, and joint ambitions of art, architecture and design."

"Abraham joins the Department of Modern and Contemporary Art at a critical moment, as we develop vital new narratives around architecture and design—especially those that engage with a global context in dialogue with historical examples—drawing upon collections at The Met that are unparalleled in their scope and depth," noted Sheena Wagstaff, Leonard A. Lauder Chairman of the Department of Modern and Contemporary Art. "We are eager to set to work re-envisioning a powerful program that fully integrates architecture and design into our display of the arts of the 20th and 21st century, using these practices as starting points for a new approach."

Abraham Thomas added: "I am thrilled and honored to join the talented team in the Modern and Contemporary Department at The Met, and to work under the leadership of Sheena Wagstaff. I'm excited to collaborate with colleagues within the Department and across the Museum."

For the past four years, Thomas has worked at the Smithsonian Institution, first as the Fleur and Charles Bresler Curator-in-Charge of the Renwick Gallery, and most recently as Senior Curator at the Arts & Industries Building, in Washington, D.C.

Prior to joining the Smithsonian, he was Director of Sir John Soane's Museum, one of the UK's foremost historic house museums, where from 2013–2015 he oversaw a major restoration of Soane's interiors, initiated new programs with institutions—including MIT's School of Architecture and Planning and MIT Museum; The Architectural Association School of Architecture; the LSE Cities program at the London School of Economics; and the School of Art, Architecture and Design at London Metropolitan University—and developed collaborative commissions with contemporary artists and designers. Before then, Thomas was Curator of Designs at the Victoria and Albert Museum, from 2005 to 2013, where he was responsible for the V&A's Architecture Gallery and its strategic partnership with the Royal Institute of British Architects.

Abraham Thomas has published and lectured extensively on architecture, decorative arts, craft, graphic design and photography, with a research focus on the 19th-century to the present. At the V&A, his exhibitions included "Heatherwick Studio: Designing the Extraordinary" (2012); the international touring exhibition, "Owen Jones: Islamic Design, Discovery and Vision" (2009–2011); and "1:1 – Architects Build Small Spaces" (2010), a site-specific exhibition which activated various public areas of the V&A with full-scale structures commissioned from emerging and mid-career international architectural practices. At the Smithsonian, he curated "Disrupting Craft: Renwick Invitational 2018", part of a biennial series showcasing artists working within and on the periphery of craft; he helped to produce "Parallax Gap", an installation for the Renwick's Grand Salon created by the architectural studio, Freeland Buck; and he is the co-curator of a forthcoming major exhibition project at the Arts & Industries Building, which is planned for the centerpiece of the Smithsonian's 175th anniversary celebrations in 2021. As an independent curator, he co-curated "Superstructures: The New Architecture, 1960–1990" for the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts in the UK (2018), the first comprehensive exhibition to examine the High-Tech movement within architecture and design.

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