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New curator, Britt Salvesen, to head two LACMA departments

August 13, 2009 |  2:15 pm

Salvesen-R1-051-24 In a move designed to increase public access to its works on paper, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art has hired a curator to head two departments: photography and prints and drawings. Britt Salvesen, director and chief curator of the University of Arizona’s Center for Creative Photography in Tucson, will assume the new position in mid-October.

She will succeed photography curator Charlotte Cotton, who is returning to England to become creative director of the Bradford-based National Media Museum’s expansion in London, and prints and drawings curator Kevin Salatino, who is leaving LACMA to direct the Bowdoin College Museum of Art in Brunswick, Maine.

But LACMA does not intend to merge the two departments or consolidate their collections. The immediate goal is to build storage and classroom space that will make the artworks available to a broader audience. The museum also plans to hire a curatorial specialist in Old Master prints and drawings to round out its staff.

Salvesen sees her new job as “an opportunity to expand my skills beyond photography and think of it as interrelated not only to prints and drawings but also to contemporary art, film and other things that LACMA offers. That’s a conversation that really interests me. It’s also an important message of integration that a museum can offer to a city like Los Angeles that’s so diverse and revolves around creativity."

“Los Angeles itself is a big part of the job’s appeal for me,” she says. “I look forward to being part of that community.”

Historically, many museums have combined prints, drawings and photographs in one department. LACMA won’t be doing that, Salvesen says. But it will incorporate what she calls “the library-style print room model,” which “fosters research and offers an intimate experience with objects.”

“The interesting challenge now is how to make that a 21st century model,” she says. “What new layers can we add to take into account technologies and other means of representation that aren’t just objects on tables or walls?”

A historian of modern art and photography, Salvesen earned a master's degree at the University of London’s Courtauld Institute of Art and a doctorate at the University of Chicago. She worked in the publications department of the Art Institute of Chicago from 1994 to 2003 and spent the following year at the Milwaukee Art Museum as associate curator of prints, drawings and photographs. She has made her professional home at the Center for Creative Photography since 2004, moving up from curator to interim director to director and chief curator.

An example of Salvesen’s work will appear at LACMA in “New Topographics,” opening Oct. 25. It’s a re-creation of a landmark exhibition with a longer title, “New Topographics: Photographs of a Man-Altered Landscape,” organized in 1975 by the George Eastman House International Museum of Photography & Film in Rochester, N.Y. Eastman House and the Center for Creative Photography have co-organized a new version of the show, currently on view in Rochester and scheduled to travel to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and five European institutions after its stop in Los Angeles.

 — Suzanne Muchnic

Photo: Britt Salvesen. Credit: Los Angeles County Museum of Art

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