Paola Morsiani gets set to head up the Neuberger Museum of Art
Paola Morsiani has been surrounded by great art her entire life. She grew up in Italy, studying art history at the University of Padua, moved on to the grand museums and galleries of New York City as she went to grad school at NYU, held exhibitions for red-hot contemporary artists at the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston, and eventually reinstalled the contemporary art collection galleries at the Cleveland Museum of Art. Starting this month, she’ll take over as director of the Neuberger Museum of Art at Purchase College, and we asked her about her plans.
When you think back on your experience in Cleveland, what makes you most proud? I made the contemporary art inside the Cleveland Museum as important as the other areas that are represented there. Before that, it was more focused on Old Masters and historical art. We showed that the Cleveland Museum can connect to living artists.
What are you going to miss most about Cleveland? I get very attached to communities. When you work in an institution, you first and foremost serve a community. Leaving is heartbreaking, but it’s a growing pain.
What about working in Cleveland has prepared you the most for coming to the Neuberger? Before Cleveland even, in Houston, I did many shows with artists who were very young or mid-career. They were working with new artistic forms and had new social and political ideas. Then ,in Cleveland, I learned how you use a collection to educate, and how you share, add to, and care for a collection. These are the two things—working with young artists and using a collection—that I’m going to bring to the Neuberger.
What about the Neuberger excites you most? The fact that it is a college museum. I’m looking forward to working with the students—and not just the visual art students. We really want to connect to all the different disciplines. The museum also has an amazing board, the Friends of the Neuberger Museum of Art, which has worked very hard since 1974 to make sure that there is a collection. That is unique—that, not only does it have a great exhibition program, it has a stellar collection—and I am looking forward to working with them about how to consolidate it and add to it.
What about the Neuberger needs the most improvement? The museum is great. My predecessor did a fantastic job in taking the museum to the next step, and I can use everything that he put into place. But, because the museum is part of a college, it has to adjust to how the world has changed and connect better to the updated curricula at the college. It’s hard, and it changes every day.
How do you think you’ll be able to figure it out? The first thing I will do is listen. I look forward to living near the museum and getting to know everyone who lives in the area and really exploring who is coming to the museum, why, and what they are looking to do there.
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If you could put on one dream exhibition, what would it be? We have six curators at the Neuberger, so my dream is to make their exhibition dreams come true. I have been very lucky in my career to have directors who helped me put together exhibitions I am very proud of, and I want to do the same.