In Profile Kristen Hileman Contemporary Curator of the Baltimore Museum


The Baltimore Museum of Art has hired Kristen Hileman as its curator of contemporary art and chief within its contemporary art department. Hileman, who has worked as a curator for the Smithsonian’s Hirshhorn Museum & Sculpture Garden for the last eight years, will begin in her new role on November 2. She replaces Darsie Alexander, who left the position to take the top curatorial slot at the Walker Art Center.

“My experience to date is in institutions that focus on contemporary and modern art,” says Hileman. “I’m very excited to move to an institution with collections from various parts of the world and various time periods and to build a new program within that context.”

Hileman joined the Hirshhorn as an assistant curator in 2001 and was named associate curator in 2007. During that time, Hileman oversaw two curated permanent installations: “Ways of Seeing: John Baldessari Explores the Collection” and “Strange Bodies: Figurative Works,” which is currently on display. She directed several exhibits for “Directions,” a series of smaller, exploratory solo-artist shows typically organized for unique spaces in and around the museum. Between 2004 and 2006, she assembled Directions shows featuring the works of Cai Guo-Qiang, Jim Hodges, and Oliver Herring.

Baltimore Museum of Art director Doreen Bolger cites Hileman’s work on the upcoming Truitt exhibition and her takes on the permanent collection as factors that drew her to Hileman. “It’s beyond [Hileman’s] individual connections to the permanent collection. It’s about a way of working with the permanent collection as an inspiration, as a springboard for the future,” says Bolger.

Hileman’s first responsibility will be to coordinate a traveling exhibit, “Andy Warhol: The Last Decade,” which arrives in Baltimore in October 2010. Hileman says that she will continue a small-projects program called the Front Room—a series created by her predecessor, Alexander, that has featured work by Dieter Roth, Rachel Harrison, and Jim Dine. “I’m very interested in making a more dynamic and changing program of video and digital art,” she says.

“She has a very interesting social and political bent to some of her thinking,” says Kerry Brougher, chief curator for the Hirshhorn. Hodges’s 2005 “Directions” piece, for example, was a 75-foot banner, mounted on the museum’s facade, on which he invited United Nations delegates to write the phrase “Don’t be afraid” in their native tongue. (The only nation to refuse to participate was the United States.) Hileman’s final and most significant project for the Hirshhorn, “Anne Truitt: Perception and Reflection”-a retrospective she curated and for which she has written the catalog, the first major retrospective of the sculptor’s work-opens October 8.

Hileman is a well-known face in the Washington, D.C., arts community, having taught as an adjunct instructor at both the Corcoran College of Art + Design and George Washington University. She lectures frequently at metro-area galleries and organizations and has juried a number of exhibitions in the area, including “Strictly Painting 6,” a biennial contemporary painting exhibition at the McLean Project for the Arts.

A graduate of American University and the University of Maryland College Park (where she earned her master’s in art history), Hileman says that her close proximity to the Washington area is a benefit to the new job. “She’s had a particularly strong impact with the local community,” says Kerry Brougher, chief curator at the Hirshhorn. “She’s lived in Washington for many, many years. She’s been very instrumental with connecting the museum with a lot of local collectors as well as outlying regions near Washington.”

With the departure of Hileman and contemporary art curator Anne Ellegood-who left the Hirshhorn in April 2009 to take a position as senior curator at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles-Brougher acknowledges that the Hirshhorn faces a contemporary gap. The museum will announce shortly an international search for a curator of contemporary art, he says. Another position at either the associate or assistant curator level will be created with the input of the new contemporary curator.

Hileman hasn’t decided yet on her next steps. She says that intends to take time learning about the community in Baltimore and at the museum before thinking about her first show.

“She’s done some work here in Baltimore already. She knows a good bit of the donor community as well,” says Bolger. “She has the lay of the land.”