Columbia Names El Museo del Barrio Chief Curator as Director of Wallach Art Gallery

Nicholas B. Dirks, Columbia University’s executive vice president for arts and sciences and dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, has announced the appointment of Deborah Cullen, a leading curator and specialist in modern and contemporary art, as the new director and chief curator of the University’s Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Art Gallery.

Columbia News Staff
May 10, 2012

Cullen is currently director of curatorial programs at New York’s El Museo del Barrio, where she has served since 1997. The museum is the city’s leading Latino cultural institution and a dynamic center of art from Latino, Caribbean and Latin American cultures. Cullen has also maintained a long involvement with the Robert Blackburn Printmaking Workshop, where she had served as curator of the print collection. She begins her new position at Columbia on July 1.

In 2016, Wallach Art Gallery—currently located on the eighth floor of Schermerhorn Hall on Columbia’s Morningside Heights campus—will be relocated to the planned Lenfest Center for the Arts on the University’s nearby Manhattanville campus, along with other new School of the Arts presentation venues.

“Deborah Cullen has the experience and vision not just to plan for and shepherd the move to Manhattanville but also to build on the extraordinary history of the gallery as it brings the department of art history and archaeology into a new partnership with the School of the Arts,” said Dirks.

Operating under the auspices of Columbia’s department of art history and archaeology, the gallery was established in 1986 through the generosity of Miriam and Ira D. Wallach. Exhibitions covering a broad range of art-historical periods and styles have been initiated by the gallery, with graduate students, faculty, and outside scholars serving as curators.

Recent exhibitions, each accompanied by an illustrated catalogue with a critical essay, have included "Social Forces Visualized: Photography and Scientific Charity 1900-1920," "Nancy Holt: Sightlines" and "Xu Bing: Square Word Calligraphy Classroom."

“Deborah Cullen is the perfect person to help position the Wallach Art Gallery in relationship to the Lenfest Center for the Arts, and the city,” said Carol Becker, dean of Columbia’s School of the Arts. “The School of the Arts is thrilled that she is coming and that we will have the opportunity to work together on various exhibitions, including those of School of the Arts students.”

Cullen’s recent projects range from heading the curatorial team for the Trienal Poligrafica de San Juan (an international graphics Triennial), to documenting the history of Latin American performance art in the late 20th century, to detailing the relationships between diverse artists in New York before World War II.

The gallery plays an integral role within the art history program at Columbia, serving as a resource in which teaching and research can be explored within the context of exhibitions. Not only does the gallery provide students and faculty with opportunities for crucial contact with original works of art, but it also offers a forum for inquiry into issues and methods informing curatorial practice. In addition, students interested in museum or gallery careers can gain valuable experience in a professionally staffed facility through internships and fellowships.

“The faculty and students of the department of art history and archeology are thrilled that Dr. Cullen has accepted the University’s offer to serve as the new director of the Wallach Art Gallery,” said Holger A. Klein, professor of art history and archeology. “Dr. Cullen’s visionary leadership experience and curatorial interests will not only allow her to shape an exciting future of the Wallach’s exhibition program, but also ensure that the new Lenfest Center for the Arts in Manhattanville will become a vibrant new home for the gallery in the years and decades to come.”