Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (MFA) Appoints Jen Mergel as Senior Curator of Contemporary Art

Malcolm Rogers, Ann and Graham Gund Director of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (MFA), has announced the appointment of Jen Mergel as the MFA’s Beal Family Senior Curator of Contemporary Art. Mergel, who will join the Museum in February 2010, is presently associate curator at the Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA) in Boston, where she has worked since 2005.

“Jen Mergel will play a key role in enhancing the appreciation of contemporary art within the context of our encyclopedic Museum,” said Rogers. “Her vision will enable the MFA to reach new audiences as we expand the presence of contemporary art at the Museum with new galleries, exhibitions, installations, and educational programs.”

The appointment is the culmination of a year-long search by an MFA 11-person committee, composed of Museum Trustees, Overseers, members of the Contemporary Visiting Committee, and MFA staff. As Beal Family Senior Curator, Mergel will set the curatorial direction for the Department of Contemporary Art and MFA Programs, chaired by Edward Saywell. Her responsibilities will include managing the contemporary collection, organizing exhibitions, identifying acquisitions, advancing scholarship, expanding programs with the School of the Museum of Fine Arts (SMFA), as well as furthering outreach to local and national communities and donors. In addition, Mergel will work with Saywell on the development, planning, and organization of the Museum’s new galleries in the Linde Family Wing, scheduled to open as the MFA’s center for contemporary art in June 2011.

“The MFA is in a unique position to connect audiences to contemporary culture in the context of its world-class collections and scholarship as no other encyclopedic museum has before,” said Mergel. “There is now unprecedented potential and commitment to build a program that allows visitors and students to rethink both contemporary and historical works as part of a broader, ongoing discourse. It is an honor to have the opportunity to work with such a phenomenal network of colleagues and patrons to develop the MFA’s bold new vision for contemporary art, and further enrich and expand Boston’s cultural landscape.”

Mergel has organized numerous exhibitions and artist projects at the ICA, including: Acting Out: Social Experiments in Video (2009), an examination of the complex dynamics of social relationships featuring works by Yael Bartana, Phil Collins, and Javier Téllez; Tara Donovan (2008–2009), the sculptor’s first museum survey, for which Mergel served as co-curator with Nicholas Baume and coordinated the national tour; and Accumulations (2007–2008), an ICA Collection exhibition that considered how artists assemble discrete elements into more than the sum of their parts, with works by Paul Chan, Josiah McElheny, and Cornelia Parker, among others. Mergel also has presented several exhibitions in the ICA’s Momentum series, including Momentum 15: R.H. Quaytman, Exhibition Guide, Chapter 15, the first solo museum exhibition of new paintings by this Boston-born artist, recently selected for the 2010 Whitney Biennial; Momentum 13: Eileen Quinlan, My eyes can only look at you (2009), a survey of 32 abstract photographs by this SMFA alumna; and Momentum 11: Nicholas Hlobo, Vula zibhuqe (2008), which featured drawings, an installation, and a performance by this South African artist. In addition, Mergel has been organizing Charles LeDray, a major survey of the artist’s sculpture since the late 1980s, as well as developing the national tour and editing the comprehensive catalogue for the exhibition, which will open at the ICA in July 2010.

“Our family is very pleased with the appointment of Jen Mergel as the Beal Family Senior Curator of Contemporary Art,” said Bruce A. Beal. “After an extensive search, the best candidate was a Bostonian with strong connections to this community. We are impressed with Jen’s outstanding scholarship, boundless enthusiasm, and innovative vision for the future of
contemporary art at the MFA.”

Mergel has authored essays in a variety of publications, including Standard Bank Young Artist Award 2009: Nicholas Hlobo (Michael Stevenson Gallery, Cape Town, South Africa: 2009) and Tara Donovan (The Monacelli Press/Random House, New York and the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston: 2008), and is currently editing Charles LeDray (The Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston: 2010). Mergel has been a guest lecturer, curator, and juror at cultural institutions in the United States, and, by invitation of international consulates, has reviewed contemporary art programming in France and Taiwan. Prior to joining the ICA, she served in various curatorial capacities at the Tang Teaching Museum and Art Gallery at Skidmore College, for the 2004 Whitney Biennial, and at the Addison Gallery of American Art at Phillips Academy, Andover, MA, where she was a curatorial fellow.

Mergel received her Master of Arts degree at the Center for Curatorial Studies and Art in Contemporary Culture at Bard College, where she was awarded a scholarship, fellowship, and research assistantship. She received her Bachelor of Arts degree summa cum laude in visual and environmental studies at Harvard University. Mergel’s honors thesis was in sculpture, and she was the recipient of John Harvard, Elizabeth Cary Agassiz, Clifford, William Byrd, and Stride-Rite public service scholarships.

A native of Boston, Mergel has longstanding ties to the local arts community. She took courses at the MFA throughout grade school and high school. Following her studies at Harvard, she taught studio art courses there and, more recently, curatorial studies at Boston University. Mergel continues to be active in community arts outreach through lectures, programs, and reviews at the Cambridge Art Association; the New Art Center, Newton; the Villa Victoria Center of the Arts, Boston; Massachusetts College of Art; and the SMFA.

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