As Crystal Bridges chief curator, I’m excited to announce the promotions of two curatorial team members: Mindy Besaw and Lauren Haynes. These promotions align with the museum’s mission of welcoming all to experience the power of art, and focus on Native American and contemporary art, as well as scholarship, as key elements.
Mindy Besaw (left) is now Curator, American Art and Director of Fellowships and Research (formerly Curator, American Art). In concert with her curatorial endeavors, Besaw will guide the long-term vision and strategic planning for the Tyson Scholars of American Art program, which is open to PhD holders and candidates who seek to advance understanding of American art and its future. She will also lead institutional efforts to define and build Native American art programs and collections in collaboration with Indigenous scholars, tribal leadership, and Native individuals.
Lauren Haynes (right) is now Director of Artist Initiatives and Curator, Contemporary Art at Crystal Bridges and the Momentary (formerly Curator, Contemporary Art, Crystal Bridges and Curator of Visual Arts for the Momentary). This role unifies two previously separated curatorial endeavors into one, with Haynes shepherding all activities related to the contemporary visual art program at both Crystal Bridges and the Momentary. She will lead strategic conversations and projects around contemporary art and how both institutions engage with living visual artists.
In 2019, Besaw received an award for excellence from the Association of Art Museum Curators for her work renovating and reinstalling the museum’s Early American Art Galleries. The renovation included bilingual wall panels and multiple new perspectives and voices to greet visitors when they first enter the galleries. In 2018, she co-curated Art for a New Understanding: Native Voices, 1950s to Now, an exhibition tracing the development of contemporary Indigenous art from the United States and Canada. The exhibition was organized at Crystal Bridges and traveled to three additional venues across the country.
Since joining Crystal Bridges from the Studio Museum in Harlem in 2016, Haynes has helped organize three original exhibitions at Crystal Bridges and the Momentary, most recently State of the Art 2020 at both locations. She was also co-curator of the 2019 Crystal Bridges’ exhibition Crystals in Art: Ancient to Today and the 2018 exhibition The Beyond: Georgia O’Keeffe and Contemporary Art. Haynes is co-curator of the inaugural Tennessee Triennial for Contemporary Art, taking place across Tennessee in 2021, and she recently received the New Leadership Award from ArtTable, the national organization of professional women in the visual arts.
With the opening of the Momentary, and the successful second iteration of State of the Art 2020 at both Crystal Bridges and the Momentary, the museum is better positioned than ever to be a leader in the field of contemporary American art. Haynes will build upon past successes and her national profile to cultivate and create relationships, strategies, outreach, and programs related to the museum’s contemporary art collection across the two buildings.
The formal launch of an Artist-in-Residence program is central to the kinds of opportunities Haynes can help envision for audiences of all ages and levels of interest, enabling living artists to provide transformative experiences for our guests.
The 10th anniversary of Crystal Bridges and the Tyson Scholars Program will be upon us next year, and the museum is already planning for its next decade and beyond. By continuing to engage with scholarly and public debate, presenting multiple perspectives, and embracing new ways of thinking about American art history, Besaw is poised to grow the Tyson Scholars Program and expand our mission to explore the unfolding story of America.
One of the most important ways Crystal Bridges will be able to redefine American art in the twenty-first century is through our commitment to and deeper engagement with Native American art. Building upon the strength of the nationally touring exhibition Art for a New Understanding: Native Voices, 1950s to Now exhibition and the engagement it created, Besaw will lead and plan pilot exhibitions and larger installations of historic Native American art in the collection galleries, and will recruit and hire a curator of Native American art.
Lauren Haynes and Mindy Besaw have proven themselves as outstanding curators at Crystal Bridges (as well as the Momentary in Lauren’s case) and on the national stage. With their continued focus on curatorial excellence and scholarship, we can provide more opportunities for our visitors to experience art, and to ensure that we’re reflecting the diversity of the American experience.
This post was written by Austen Barron Bailly, chief curator, Crystal Bridges.