Our Maine Man: Kevin Salatino, new director of Bowdoin Art Museum

Posted Wednesday, April 27, 2011 in Features

Our Maine Man: Kevin Salatino, new director of Bowdoin Art Museum

Kitty Wheeler chats with the director of the Bowdoin College Art Museum, Kevin Salatino.

by Kitty Wheeler, photos by Tyler Drumm

BRUNSWICK -- The dynamic, new director of Bowdoin College Museum of Art, Kevin Salatino, has recently burst into view. He arrived in August 2009, and the renovated museum hasn’t been the same since.

A graduate of Columbia University, he earned his Ph.D. from the University of Pennsylvania with his dissertation on frescoes of Far Angelica.

First a research assistant in art history at Penn, then a teacher at Middlebury College, Salatino moved to the Getty Center for the History of Art and Humanities as a collection development specialist. His next move was to become curator of graphic arts at the Getty Research Institute and then curator and head of the Department of Prints and Drawings at Los Angeles County Museum of Art. In 2009 Bowdoin College hired him to be the director of the recently renovated art museum.

Mark Salatino, director at Bowdoin Museum of Art

Foreign languages ripple off his tongue: Italian, French, German and a dash of Latin. Many publications, some translations, select exhibitions and lectures and jurying shows are all part of his extensive background. Awards and fellowships that include the Center for Curatorial Leadership, Universita di Roma, and Acadia Summer Arts Program round out his experience. He is also a member of the Print Council of America, and currently holds a board position on the council.

“I function as both a director and chief curator here,” Salatino says of his job at Bowdoin, “and I love both of them.” His background experience with two large civic institutions in Los Angeles has allowed him to form personal relationships in the field of art. These contacts open up doors for exhibition loans and other museum needs.

Exhibitions have been important to Salatino. Currently, there are two main shows that complement each other: The Bible Illuminated: R. Crumb’s Book of Genesis, and Object of Devotion: Medieval English Alabaster Sculpture from the Victoria and Albert Museum. Both the Old and New Testaments are on display, one in cartoon form created recently and the other in carved alabaster panels and figures from the 15th and 16th centuries in England. (The Crumb exhibit is on view through May 8.)

Modernism at Bowdoin: American Paintings, 1900-1940 and The Renaissance & Revival of Classical Antiquity are also showing in upstairs galleries.

In October, the museum will celebrate the 200th anniversary of its collections. James Bowdoin, one of the college’s first presidents, donated his artwork although the museum itself was not built until 1893. A spectacular exhibit of Edward Hopper’s Maine will still be on display; 40 paintings, 32 watercolors and 12 charcoal drawings will showcase Hopper’s Maine work. New York’s Whitney Museum of American Art is a co-sponsor. There will also be a small exhibit of paintings of Hopper’s contemporaries.

In the 20 months that Salatino has run the museum, he is happy with the past, present and future exhibitions. He also wants to hang collections that have been in storage for many years. “What I hope to accomplish is to make the museum realize what it has with its expansion and renovation,” he says. He also wants to become a member of the Association of American Museum Directors, which will broaden his base of contacts.

“Having exhibitions that draw national attention as well as Maine and Bowdoin College audiences is another goal of mine,” he said. Hopper’s Maine is certainly a show that will begin to achieve this. And the new director promises that other compelling shows will follow.

Salatino travels a great deal as he looks for potential financial donors, alumni who will make acquisitions to the museum, and those who may endow a staff position. He has re-instated the museum’s Advisory Council that will develop useful contacts in the art world and form subcommittees for necessary museum support. At the same time, he has created a student advisory council to encourage students and their peers to come to the museum.

Two other reasons for the director’s travels are to attend art fairs on contemporary art and Old Masters and to speak to alumni groups in major cities. He also wants the college trustees to attend a reception in the museum at one of their semi-annual meetings.

When asked what the museum’s strongest fields are, Salatino emphasizes 18th and 19th century American art, including many portraits, classical antiquities, and Renaissance art. His own favorite periods are paintings from the Renaissance, prints, drawings and graphic art. In the presentations he makes to the Trustees, Friends of Bowdoin and alumni groups, he talks about the strengths of the museum holdings as well as areas that need to be improved.


Mark Salatino, director of the Bowdoin Museum of Art

To operate the museum, there is a $2 million annual budget. The museum does have two endowments, one for operations, the other for acquisitions; the college provides the remaining funds for salaries, security and other expenses. There are 10 full-time staff and one part-time manager for the museum store. It’s also possible to become a member of the art museum. You are invited to opening exhibit receptions and receive interesting bulletins.

The college art museum in Brunswick faces the quad and backs up to Park Row. The museum is open every day except Monday. There is no entrance fee. The gift shop greets the visitor in the entry hall after one has descended a flight of steps … or taken the elevator … below the glass "box" to the left of the museum. (Fortunately, the grand front stairs have remained in place after the heated discussions of the museum renovation.) Art books, note cards and other appropriate items are for sale in the shop.

Another treat for the visitor is discovering the Assyrian relief sculptures from the ninth century BCE, part of the museum’s permanent collection. They are hanging resplendently on a wall that greets museum-goers as they climb the stairs from the lower level. King Ashumasirpal II ordered the sculptures and cuneiform writings to be made so that they could hang in his Nimrud palace on the upper reaches of the Tigris River in what is now northern Iraq.

Along with exhibitions, college faculty, representing all academic fields, use the museum’s collections to highlight their own courses. Art history and visual art students benefit the most from studying the artwork. There is a seminar room on the lower level for these students, and some of them assist the professors in selecting works for further analysis. The visual art students will have their senior projects on display in a gallery in Fort Andross next month.

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