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Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art announces Chief Curator
Austen Barron Bailly, PhD served as the George Putnam Curator of American Art at the Peabody Essex Museum. Courtesy Peabody Essex Museum. Photo: Kathy Tarantola.

BENTONVILLE, ARK.- Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art announced the appointment of Austen Barron Bailly, PhD, as chief curator, following her tenure at the Peabody Essex Museum (PEM) in Salem, Mass., where she served as the George Putnam Curator of American Art.

Effective July 15, 2019, Bailly will lead the curatorial and collections management teams at Crystal Bridges. She will be a key member of the strategy team, overseeing collection growth and preservation, and will work alongside the director of the Momentary, Lieven Bertels, and director of curatorial affairs, Margi Conrads, to develop exciting exhibition programs.

“I’m thrilled to welcome Austen to Crystal Bridges and Northwest Arkansas,” said Rod Bigelow, Crystal Bridges executive director, chief diversity and inclusion officer. “Her ability to lead teams and collaborate with peers combined with her deep understanding of and passion for American art will invigorate the museum’s curatorial approach to provide inspiring art opportunities for visitors.”

Bailly will arrive in time for Nature’s Nation: American Art and Environment, a temporary exhibition Crystal Bridges is presenting that examines American artists’ impact on shaping environmental understanding and stewardship. Created by Princeton University Art Museum, the exhibition traveled to the Peabody Essex Museum, where it is on view through May 5.

"I am excited to join Crystal Bridges and to help continue the momentum of this welcoming and visionary art museum,” said Bailly. “It is a thrilling opportunity to work with such a talented team to activate this American art collection, create new scholarship, and develop engaging exhibitions. Northwest Arkansas beckons, and I, along with my husband and our two children, look forward to becoming a part of this creative and vibrant community."

Bailly joined PEM in 2013 following 11 years in the American art department at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA). At PEM, she has curated nationally touring exhibitions, including American Epics: Thomas Hart Benton and Hollywood (2015), the first major exhibition of Benton’s work in over 25 years and the first to explore the artist’s connection to filmmaking; American Impressionist: Childe Hassam and the Isles of Shoals (2016), an unprecedented research collaboration between geologists, marine scientists, and art historians that led to new discoveries about Hassam's paintings and artistic practice; and Jacob Lawrence: The American Struggle (2020), the first museum exhibition to reunite a seminal series of thirty paintings, which reimagines pivotal moments in US history and resonates with ongoing debates about democracy, justice, and truth.

Bailly received her B.A. from Vassar College, her M.A. from the Williams College Graduate Program in the History of Art and her Ph.D. from the University of California, Santa Barbara. She is a co-executive editor of the journal Panorama and has served as chair of the Association of Historians of American Art, and as a member of the Public Art Commission for the City of Salem.

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