New Museum Curator Captivated By Collection's Treasures

Story posted January 27, 2011

Anyone would envy Joachim Homann his first weeks on the job.

The Bowdoin Museum of Art's new curator has spent whole days in what he likes to call "time travel" — poring over some of the nearly 18,000 objects in the Museum's collection.

Joachim-homann
Joachim Homann

"You can see so clearly, even in a collection that is over 200 years old, what kind of spirit is in the place," says Homann, who recently came to Bowdoin from Colgate University's Picker Art Gallery. "When I go into storage I can see what were the preferences of the Walker sisters or the enthusiasms of James Bowdoin III and other donors who have been incredibly generous to the museum.

"It's not only works of art I see, but the profile of the collectors and directors who have built up the collection," he adds. "It says a lot about the institution and should make students proud to have this history that is alive and at their fingertips."

Homann's curatorial debut is currently on display in the Boyd Gallery's Modernism at Bowdoin: American Paintings, 1900-1940. The exhibition includes many favorites from the collection, ranging from American Impressionism, to Rockwell Kent to Marsden Hartley.

glackens painting bowdoin museum of art
William J. Glackens, Captain's Pier, 1912-1914, oil on canvas, Gift of Stephen M. Etnier, collection of Bowdoin College Museum of Art.

"I think audiences are really enjoying the colorful and bright works in this show, which is the conclusion of a year-long Museum project investigating Modernism in America," says Homann. "The paintings cheer up a Maine winter, and it was such a delight for me to work with them for my first exhibition."

Homann has examined art and art history through myriad lenses and mediums in his curatorial work -- both at the Picker Gallery, where he was curator from 2007 -2010, and at the Rubin Center for the Visual Arts at the University of Texas at El Paso, from 2005-2007.

Among the exhibitions he recently organized and co-curated was the Picker's Woodcuts in Modern China, 1937-2008: Towards a Universal Pictorial Language, which traced several generations of 20th century woodcut printers in their search for a visual language that communicates to educated and illiterate, urban and rural alike.

In El Paso, Homann brought the powerful, graphical work of Mexican artist Francisco Toledo to American audiences, curating the traveling exhibition, El maestro Franciso Toledo: Art from Oaxaca, 1959-2006.

Homann, who is a native of Germany, says he sees his curatorial role as part historian, part explorer, who wants to use art to "ask the big questions."

"What do we expect art to tell us about ourselves or the world we live in?" he asks. "How seriously do we take images? What do they tell us about days past that have defined what we are? I think a museum of this caliber opens up every visitor's imagination."

Foremost, he says, the Bowdoin College Museum of Art has a responsibility and a privilege as a teaching museum to be "transparent to the campus community" and invite faculty and students to consider the collection as an instrument for investigating their own voices.

"I think Bowdoin students are in a special situation," observes Homann. "They have intimate access to one of the oldest collections in the country, set in a stunning space, that operates at the highest level of staffing and direction. This museum has so much more breadth than most other colleges can offer."

On a personal level, Homann says the depth of curatorial expertise already in place at the Museum offers him an unparalleled opportunity to learn and experiment.

"I am thrilled to be working with Kevin Salatino and the other Museum staff members," says Homann. "Kevin brings to the Museum an acute awareness of historic and contemporary art and his installations are so beautiful and well considered that they really draw visitors in and invite them to view things very carefully. I'll learn a lot from him and I look forward to supporting him and his vision for this exquisite Museum."

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