The University Record, April 15, 1998

Berkeley Museum's chief curator recommended to head Museum of Art


By Jane R. Elgass

James Steward, a specialist in 18th- and 19th-century European visual culture, will be recommended to the Regents as the new director of the Museum of Art at their April 21 meeting. If approved, he also will be assistant professor in the School of Art and Design and adjunct assistant professor in the Department of History of Art. He will assume the post in mid-July.

"James will bring to the University a broad background and experience which, combined with his energy and creativity, will help to enhance the visibility of the Museum of Art and foster connections with our academic units and the broader community," said Provost Nancy Cantor. "I am very pleased that he has accepted my invitation to join our community, and I look forward to working with him in support of the Museum of Art."

Steward comes to the U-M from the Berkeley Art Museum at the University of California where he is chief curator and assistant director. At Berkeley he has been responsible for all aspects of the exhibition program and collection development and management. He also supervises a museum internship program and, as an adjunct professor, develops and teaches museum studies and period art history courses.

Steward was drawn to the U-M post because of the University's "strong and distinguished history in the arts, and the fact that the Museum has been a leader in its field for over 50 years. At the same time I think there's room for me to make a real contribution," including, he hopes, fostering new and stronger partnerships with other campus departments and other museums locally and nationally, particularly academic museums. "Michigan is such a wonderful university," he said, "and that's important to me, coming from another remarkable public university."

He noted that academic museums, such as the U-M's, have a huge advantage over civic facilities, because "there is a large core of talent to draw on, along with cutting-edge scholarship unequaled in civic museums. The body of talent is unparalleled."

One of the challenges facing an academic museum, however, is that such museums "often take on the role of building bridges between town and gown. It's a challenge to work with different constituencies that have divergent expectations and desires. To some degree, it's a tight-wire act, but one that is more than offset by the tremendous potential."

He has received several major grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities. Among the exhibitions he has organized are "The New Child: British Art and the Origins of Modern Childhood, 17301830" and "When Time Began to Rant and Rage: Figurative Painting from Twentieth-Century Ireland," both of which are interdisciplinary in nature and reflect his scholarly research interests. The latter opens in October and will be seen in Liverpool, Berkeley, New York, and London.

Steward studied the art and literature of varied cultures while living in the Far East, and was a student of the late Renaissance scholar Frederick Hartt during his undergraduate years at the University of Virginia. He also studied at the Sorbonne, where he gained his first professional museum experience through a research appointment at the Musee du Louvre.

In graduate work at the Institute of Fine Arts in New York, Steward's research focused on two disparate areas19th-century French art and national identity, and archaic sculpture from ancient Greece. His doctoral dissertation at Oxford University was on childhood and family relationships as revealed in 18th-century British art, under the direction of the distinguished art historian Francis Haskell.

After a period of independent curating and writing, Steward joined the Berkeley Art Museum, first as curator and then chief curator. Much of his work there grew out of his interdisciplinary interests in art as the expression of social values and change.

Steward has lectured widely and taught courses on a number of topics, including museum philosophy and practice and the future of the museum. He currently is developing a project that looks at 19th-century artists' photography.