Academy Taps Smithsonian Curator to Lead Movie Museum (Exclusive)

5:53 PM PST 04/07/2014 by Gary Baum
Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post via Getty Images

Kerry Brougher, interim director of the Smithsonian's Hirshhorn Museum, has been selected to lead the planned AMPAS facility in Los Angeles, sources tell THR.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has landed an A-list star to lead its planned movie museum in Los Angeles.

Kerry Brougher, the interim director and chief curator of the Smithsonian's Hirshhorn Museum in Washington, D.C., is in final negotiations to be named the head of the Academy Museum, sources tell The Hollywood Reporter.

Both Brougher and AMPAS could not be reached for comment Monday.

Landing the seasoned museum executive is a coup for the high-profile $300 million project, which is slated to break ground at the end of the year under the aegis of architect Renzo Piano in the renovated May Co. building at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art campus. The museum, a top priority of Academy CEO Dawn Hudson, has been the source of some concern in recent months over how it will balance the populist appeal of Hollywood with the strong intellectual rigor of a top-notch museum.

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Brougher, who has been at the Hirshhorn since 2000, could quell some of those concerns. He previously served for three years as director of the Museum of Modern Art in Oxford, England (now Modern Art Oxford), and from 1982 through 1997 held several curatorial posts at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, after gaining a master's degree in the history of film and television from UCLA. Some of the most notable and critically acclaimed exhibitions in his career have revolved around film, including "Hall of Mirrors: Art and Film since 1945," at MOCA; "Notorious: Alfred Hitchcock and Contemporary Art," at Oxford; and, in 2008, "The Cinema Effect: Illusion, Reality and the Moving Image," at the Hirshhorn.

It is unclear what title Brougher will be given at the museum. In an interview Friday, the AMPAS museum’s managing director, Bill Kramer, told THR that the museum committee had recently chosen the institution's "creative leader," noting "the announcement will take place very, very soon" but declining to identify the selected individual or specify whether the person would be named an executive director or chief curator or some combined role. He explained that the hold-up is, at this point, merely "an HR issue."

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Sources familiar with the globe-spanning search process over the past year say it has been marked by extensive due diligence and at least a few hurdles. Lucasfilm chief Kathleen Kennedy, the Academy governor who chaired the selection committee, held focus groups with influential members such as filmmakers Steven Spielberg and Jason Reitman, Disney/Pixar executive John Lasseter and others. Among the top art players consulted by the Academy were noted video artist Doug Aitken (with whom Brougher has a relationship from previous installation work at the Hirshhorn) and Felix Barrett (producer of "Sleep No More," the theater experience in New York). Those approached for the job include Giovanna Fossati, head curator of the EYE Film Institute Netherlands, as well as chief curator of New York's Museum of Modern Art, Rajendra Roy.

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During the search, attention has been drawn to the lack of experienced museum professionals running the project and the paucity of an existing collection of iconic artifacts to form the basis of a permanent collection, beyond such tokens as the ruby slippers from The Wizard of Oz. Indeed, when the former MOCA chief curator Paul Schimmel (who was not in the running for the position) was brought in to a key closed-door brainstorming session in January, he spoke "bluntly," according to one Academy source, telling the committee "they are not being taken seriously by the museum world."

But the appointment of Brougher should quiet some of those critics, bringing a respected figure from the art world into the Academy's orbit.

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