Major Museum Change

Menil hires a renowned LA figure to head its bold new institute, ending an international search

Menil hires a renowned LA figure to head its ambitious new institute

Allegra Pesenti Menil Drawing Institute chief curator September 2013 head shot HORIZONTAL
Curator Allegra Pesenti will join the Menil as the museum looks to build an innovative new drawing institute. Photo by © Laura Hodgson

Concluding an international search, the Menil Collection is tapping Los Angeles-based curator Allegra Pesenti to take the reigns of the forthcoming Menil Drawing Institute (MDI) — the nation's first freestanding facility dedicated to the exhibition, study and conservation of modern and contemporary drawings.

As the institute's chief curator, Pesenti will continue to develop the museum's swiftly-growing collection of works on paper and help guide a bold new building project designed by architects Johnston Marklee, also from Los Angeles. Designs for the upcoming facility are still in a preliminary phase.

Since 2007, the Italian-born curator has led the Grunwald Center for the Graphic Arts at UCLA's esteemed Hammer Museum, where she oversaw nearly 50,000 drawings, prints, photographs and artists' books dating from the Renaissance to today.

Pesenti comes to the Menil on the heels of her well-received show Paper Like Skin — a retrospective on Indian artist Zarina Hashmi that finishes a three-venue tour at the Art Institute of Chicago this month following runs at the Hammer and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum.

In a statement, Menil director Josef Helfenstein notes Pesenti's "ideal combination of scholarship, imagination, taste, and energy" as the museum looks to create its a drawing institute, quite literally, from the ground up.

"MDI’s carefully conceived architectural setting and comprehensive mission will strike a balance between the private nature of drawing and the public and educational role of the museum, bringing this vital artistic medium into a new era," Pesenti says. "I am deeply grateful to have been chosen to help develop this potentially transformative new facility."

For a window into the "imagination, taste, and energy" the curator puts into her work, a quick sweep of her Hammer shows reveals an intimate and unexpected approach to art that will dovetail effortlessly with the Menil ethos.

In recent years, Pesenti has organized an impressively diverse range of exhibits, including sculptor Rachel Whiteread's first drawings show as well as a look at 17th-, 18th- and 19th-century advertisements collected by performer (and noted magician) Ricky Jay.