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Kemper Museum in Kansas City names current Curator Barbara O'Brien as Director
O’Brien is a curator and critic with a strong record of scholarship and advocacy in the contemporary art arena. Photo: Bruce Mathews.
KANSAS CITY, MO.- The Board of Trustees of the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art announced that Barbara O’Brien, the Museum’s current chief curator and director of exhibitions and collections, will become the Kemper Museum’s new director effective immediately. O’Brien is a curator and critic with a strong record of scholarship and advocacy in the contemporary art arena. Until the end of the year, she will serve as Director and Chief Curator.

“The Museum’s trustees and I are excited to promote from within the organization,” said R. Crosby Kemper, founder and chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Museum. Kemper added, “Barbara O’Brien brings a wealth of curatorial and executive experience to the position.”

O’Brien said about her appointment, “I am honored to be asked by the Board of Trustees to lead the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art as it approaches its twentieth anniversary. My career has taken me from San Francisco to St. Paul and most recently Boston, but as a native Midwesterner I feel the most pride in the growing reputation of the Kemper Museum on a national level.”

In her nearly three years at the Museum—first as Curator in 2009 and then as Chief Curator and Director of Exhibitions and Collections in 2011—O’Brien has organized exhibitions that will travel across the United States to museums in Portland, Maine; Washington, DC; and Naples, Florida. She has curated a number of exhibitions, including Lois Dodd: Catching the Light, Eric Fertman: Here’s Your Hat, What’s Your Hurry?, Wilbur Neiwald: The Studio Portrait, Jeanne Quinn: Ceramic In(ter)ventions, The Big Reveal, Ana Maria Hernando: When the Women Sing, and a series of exhibitions called Acquisitions in Context highlighting works by Marc Swanson, Eric Forstmann, and June Ahrens. During her tenure, the Kemper Museum has added works of art to the permanent collection by artists from Germany, Ireland, Argentina, China, Japan, Egypt, Morocco, and from across the United States, including works by artists from Kansas City and the surrounding region. She has also overseen renovations and a redesign of gallery spaces at Kemper at the Crossroads.

O’Brien added, “my goal is to let works of art inspire our first-time visitors; to embrace and engage our returning visitors; and to contribute to the introduction of a new vocabulary for our young visitors as well as supporting the life-long learning goals of our adult visitors. The Kemper Museum has always been a great first introduction to contemporary art with a welcoming scale, light-filled architecture, and a dynamic collection that is in conversation with the important trends of our time.”

Before joining the Kemper Museum, O’Brien from 2006–08 was an Assistant Professor of Art at Simmons College in Boston, Massachusetts and also served as director of the College’s Trustman Art Gallery and head of its Arts Administration program. She was editor in chief of Art New England magazine (2003–06). From 1990–2001, O’Brien was the Director of the Gallery and Visiting Artist Program at Montserrat College of Art, Beverly, Massachusetts.

O’Brien is currently a member of the national Board of Directors of ArtTable, Executive Women in the Arts; and an elected member of International Association of Art Critics. She is a 2012 and 2013 juror for the Jentel Artist Residency, Jentel Foundation in Banner, Wyoming. In 2012, she served as a member of the award jury for the Charlotte Street Foundation’s Visual Artist Awards and as the sole juror for the International Alumni Exhibition for the Corcoran College of Art & Design in Washington, DC. In 2006, O’Brien received the National Alumni Award for Professional Achievement from Rhode Island School of Design, and in 2005–06, she was a visiting scholar at the Women’s Studies Research Center at Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts. She holds a master’s degree in photography from the Rhode Island School of Design, as well as bachelor’s degrees in women’s studies and journalism from the University of Kansas.

O’Brien replaces Rachael Blackburn Cozad, who resigned her position in May.



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