Ohio State curator to lead the Rose Art Museum
Published: Thursday, July 12, 2012
Updated: Monday, August 27, 2012 19:08
After a search that took nearly two years, the Rose Art Museum will have a new director starting this September who hopes to transform the museum into a landmark for both the campus and the greater region.
Christopher Bedford, the chief curator at Ohio State University’s Wexner Center for the Arts, will lead Brandeis’ prized museum as the Henry and Lois Foster Director of the Rose.
The position has been vacant since the University chose not to renew former Director Michael Rush’s contract in 2009. Since Rush’s departure, Director of Operations Roy Dawes has filled the role.
In an interview with the Justice, Bedford said that one of his goals will be to make the Rose a place for social discourse and gathering. “Basically what I would like to do is turn the museum into a social and intellectual hub both for the campus and for the broader Boston community.”
Bedford declined to name specific projects that he will pursue because he wants to give them “time to unfold” and assure support from the University. He said, however, that he would like to commission a “major work of public sculpture for outside the museum that would also serve as a beacon for the broader institution.”
The sculpture would also relate specifically to Brandeis, he said. “I am very interested and have been compelled throughout this process by this idea of Brandeis as a university committed to social justice, so I imagine this work of public art having a pretty direct relationship to that agenda.”
Bedford’s expertise is in modern and contemporary art, a condition required by last year’s settlement of a lawsuit brought against the University by several Rose patrons.
Commenting on the 2009 Rose controversy, he said the difficulties were “resolved in exactly the right way.” Bedford noted the recent renovations to the Rose and said that the president and provost have shown a strong commitment to the museum.
“Even negative circumstances like that can create great opportunity. One byproduct of the really difficult period was that it raised the consciousness of the Rose in the art world, and I think there’s that consciousness there to be exploited right now and it’s my every intention to do exactly that,” said Bedford.
Although the search committee for a new director was formed in September 2010, it did not begin to look for candidates in earnest until fall 2011 due to the pending lawsuit against the University. After the suit was settled last summer, the committee hired search firm Phillips Oppenheim to conduct a national search.
Nine candidates were interviewed on-campus and six were recommended by the committee to Provost Steve Goldstein ’78, who made the final decision, according to Scott Edmiston, chair of the search committee and director of the Office of the Arts.
Edmiston said the search committee “felt this was not a typical search.”
“Because of the unique position that the Rose was in historically, given the crisis of 2009 and [the fact that] it had been without a director for three years, we really wanted to get this one right,” said Edmiston in an interview with the Justice. “We made sure we were really thoughtful and deliberative in the process.”
Edmiston lauded the provost’s choice as a good fit for the University and a final step in moving past the 2009 controversy surrounding the sale of Rose artwork. “I think Chris is an exceptional match for Brandeis. Brandeis tends to attract people of bold ideas and bold ambitions,” he said. “I think Chris is very much that kind of person.”
Goldstein, who appointed Bedford, said, according to BrandeisNOW, “Chris Bedford understands the potential for art to impact society, the importance of art to help us understand the human experience, and the ability of art to change us. … He has a breadth of understanding that is rare and inspiring, even awe-inspiring.
“He also has his feet on the ground,” Goldstein added. “He knows how to get shows on, how to communicate with artists, donors, collectors and others in the museum world. He understands what it takes to do the work of the modern art museum.”
Bedford, a native of Scotland who grew up in England and the United States, graduated with a B.A. in art history from Oberlin College in 2000 and received a master’s in the same subject from Case Western Reserve University in 2003. He previously served in various curatorial roles at the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. In 2008, he began as the curator of exhibits at Ohio State University’s Wexner Center for the Arts and became its chief curator in 2010.
Bedford has written widely for a variety of publications, including The Burlington Magazine, Artforum, Art in America, and more.
Prof. Jonathan Unglaub (FA), a member of the search committee, said Bedford would generate new excitement at the Rose, according to BrandeisNOW.
“During the interview process, Chris demonstrated a commanding knowledge of the contemporary art world and earlier modernism, a thoughtful eloquence in articulating the challenges of running a museum, a real strategic vision about building audiences and reaching out to university constituencies and a practical know-how that belied his seeming youth,” Unglaub said.
Bedford said he believes university museums have the potential to flourish, especially by collaborating with academic departments and serving the students and faculty.
“The primary constituents [of the museum] are the students and the faculty so it will be my absolute commitment, particularly using the expertise of the curator of education, to extend ourselves as much as possible to the faculty,” he said.
He added that he taught courses while at Ohio State and he hopes to continue teaching if called upon.
“I can’t say that I’ll be in university museums my entire career, but right now it’s absolutely my passion and one of the reasons for that is the students and faculty,” said Bedford.