The “interim” tag is gone. Sarah Schroth is now officially in place as the director of Duke University’s Nasher Museum of Art.
After a committee comprising academic heavyweights and museum board members conducted an international search throughout the spring, the decision was made to promote from within.
“I’m actually happy that they did an international search because it makes everybody feel like the right decision was made,” Schroth said.
An expert in 17th-century Spanish art, Schroth is also a knight-commander in the Order of Isabel la Católica. King Juan Carlos I of Spain bestowed that honor upon her after she organized the award-winning 2008 exhibition, El Greco to Velázquez: Art during the Reign of Philip III with the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.
She takes over an institution with a lot of forward momentum at the moment. Through exhibitions such as The Record: Contemporary Art and Vinyl (2010-2011) and the current Wangechi Mutu: A Fantastic Journey, the Nasher has established a reputation as one of the premiere venues for contemporary art in the Southeast.
Duke University, meanwhile, has made a cross-disciplinary commitment to the humanities in recent years, even establishing its first MFA program two years ago in Experimental Documentary Arts. As a teaching institution, the Nasher has become one of the campus’ biggest classrooms.
Schroth understands the moment and sees opportunities to build upon the resonance between the Nasher’s national reputation and Duke’s academic transformation.
“I would like the Nasher to be even more concretely integrated into the undergraduate humanities education here at Duke,” she explains. “It’s one of my missions to think about serving the undergraduates the best way we can and contributing to Duke’s commitment to cross-discipline collaboration, which is what makes Duke so special.”
“The whole transformation through the arts here at Duke is very exciting and the Nasher has to be a keystone in that, and we will.”
One facet of that transformation will be a focus on photography in the Nasher’s future. Schroth points to the 2009 exhibition Beyond Beauty, which drew upon photography and film in the Duke Special Collections Library, as the beginning of an initiative at the museum. Gathering photographs from some of North Carolina’s most prominent collectors, this year’s Light Sensitive exhibition, which Schroth co-curated with art history and visual studies professor Patricia Leighten, expanded that initiative.
“There’s room for the Nasher to participate in the overall Duke story of collecting and exhibiting photography,” Schroth says. “We have the Center for Documentary Studies doing it and we have the library doing it. So, you know, what can the Nasher do?”
“I think Light Sensitive was a good answer to ‘What can the Nasher do?’—bring in some really exciting non-documentary work and give it a good curatorial infrastructure.”
That attention to infrastructure will help Schroth in selecting her curatorial successor, her next task as director.