The BMA Announces New Director by Cara Ober

The Baltimore Museum of Art announced a new director of the museum this afternoon, sending a private email to BMA members from Clair Zamoiski Segal, the Chair of the Board of Trustees.

“After an extensive international search, The Baltimore Museum of Art’s Board of Trustees has appointed Christopher Bedford as the Dorothy Wagner Wallis Director beginning August 15, 2016,” the email reads.

According to Segal, “Chris is currently the director of the Rose Art Museum at Brandeis University, and is recognized as a rising star in the museum world. He has held key positions with some of the most innovative institutions in the country, such as the Wexner Center for the Arts in Ohio and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. He was also recently named Commissioner of the U.S. Pavilion for the 2017 Venice Biennale, the oldest and most prestigious exhibition of contemporary art from around the world.”

This is big news considering Bedford, formerly chief curator of exhibitions at Ohio State University’s Wexner Center for the Arts, was named the Henry and Lois Foster Director of Brandeis’ Rose Art Museum in 2012.

Bedford is a native of Scotland and grew up in England and the US, and was described by BrandeisNOW, as rising “rapidly through the ranks at the J. Paul Getty Museum, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the Wexner, acquiring along the way a reputation as a visionary thinker about the engagement of art and the role of museums in society.”

According to the BMA, Bedford received a Bachelor of Arts at Oberlin College. He received a master’s degree in art history through the joint program at Case Western Reserve University and the Cleveland Museum of Art, and he has studied in the doctoral programs in art history at the University of Southern California and the Courtauld Institute of Art at the University of London.

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Bedford took the helm at the Rose Museum when he was just 35. Even five years later, at 40 Bedford is one of the youngest museum directors in the US.

At the time of his appointment at Brandeis, Bedford was quoted saying, “It is essential that the community be drawn into the museum socially and intellectually, and that the collection be integrated into the curriculum of the university. This is not just a matter of service to the community – it will be an enrichment both of the community and of the museum. Ideally, it’s a mutually beneficial relationship.”

After his appointment at the Rose Museum, Bedford expressed an interest in connecting that museum with social engagement and social justice. After just a few years at the Rose, it will be interesting to measure his impact there and to compare it with the expectations for him in filling the huge shoes of much-loved museum director Doreen Bolger, who retired last summer.

Bedford will be the 10th director of the BMA, which celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2014.

“The Baltimore Museum of Art has been a pioneer in reinventing the museum experience for 21st-century audiences while remaining committed to its outstanding collections and contributions to the field through special exhibitions and research,” said Bedford in a BMA press release. “I look forward to building upon Doreen Bolger’s achievements, working with the staff and board of the BMA as an advocate for their public mission, developing new ways to engage the community, and generating appreciation of the crucial role that the BMA plays as a resource of national standing that contributes to the city and people of Baltimore in so many ways.”

According to the museum:

Prior to joining the Rose Art Museum, Bedford held the positions of chief curator and curator of exhibitions at the Wexner Center for the Arts at The Ohio State University (2008-2012), where he organized shows featuring Nathalie Djurberg, Omer Fast, Paul Sietsema, and David Smith, as well as a major exhibition of Mark Bradford’s work that toured to the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago, the Dallas Museum of Art, and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

He also served as assistant curator and curatorial assistant in the Department of Contemporary Art at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (2006-2008) and consulting curator in the Department of Sculpture and Decorative Arts for the J. Paul Getty Museum (2006-2008). Bedford is also a noted author and contributor to publications including Art in America, ArtForum, and Frieze, among others.

Shortly after taking the helm of the Rose, Bedford commissioned a site specific sculpture by artist Chris Burden to create an inviting gateway to the museum and a dynamic outdoor space for the community. Completed in 2014, Light of Reason, is composed of antique Victorian lampposts and concrete benches that form three branches fanning out from the museum’s entrance, a structure inspired by the Brandeis University seal.

Last year, the Rose also launched Rosebud, a new satellite gallery housed in an empty storefront in downtown Waltham featuring works from the museum’s collection of video art. This innovative collaboration with the city was designed to bring art into the community, activating public engagement with contemporary art through curated exhibitions and programs, and revive underutilized properties in the city of Waltham, supporting the city’s long-term goals for economic growth and cultural vibrancy.

“The BMA is poised to enter an exciting new era under Chris’s leadership,” says Segal, speaking for the BMA Board of Trustees in her email to members. “The Trustees are confident that he has the right mix of leadership, curatorial experience, and energy to build upon the BMA’s distinguished history and lead us into the future. We know Chris’s visionary approach to community engagement will enable us to connect even more deeply with our audiences and serve as a creative catalyst for the city, expanding on the work of his predecessors.”

Author Cara Ober is founding editor at BmoreArt.