Is Houston art world incest on the rise? After an extensive search (that involved national and international candidates), The Menil Collection has named Toby Kamps, currently senior curator at the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston, as the museum's new curator of modern and contemporary art.
Kamps is coming off of a three-and-a-half year stint at the CAMH, to which he brought national acclaim with such exhibitions as 2008's The Old, Weird America, a study of folk themes in contemporary art, winning a "Best Thematic Show Nationally" award from the U.S. chapter of the International Association of Art Critics. At the CAMH, Kamps cultivated a reputation for curating exhibition programs that travelled to other museums, accompanied by critically praised catalogues.
The art arena's merry-go-round of curatorial posts makes for an interesting study: For example, Kamps will be replacing Franklin Sirmans, who moved to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art earlier this year. Sirmans was recruited by LACMA director Michael Govan, who previously collaborated with the curator when the two worked at New York's Dia Art Foundation — an organization founded in part by Philippa de Menil, daughter of Dominique de Menil.
"Following Toby's expression of interest in coming to the Menil and our thorough interview process, I am most pleased that we found our ideal candidate right here in Houston," Josef Helfenstein, director of The Menil Collection, said. "He brings impressive credentials, national and international experience and a real enthusiasm to the Menil as we move forward, building upon the legacy of its founders."
Kamps' rise as seasoned purveyor of modern and contemporary art began with his earning a bachelor's degree in German from Bowdoin College, after which he studied art history at Kunsthistorisches Institut at the Free University in Berlin, eventually returning to the U.S. to earn a master's degree from Williams College. Working at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, he co-edited the comprehensive catalogue raisonné of conceptual artist Bruce Nauman.
Other accolades include serving as curator and department head at the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego, where he led the collections committee and was active in identifying and presenting works of art for acquisition. Leaving the CAMH, a decidedly non-collecting institution, Kamps will reenter a realm of museum work where he can draw upon a potent permanent collection.
"The Menil has been a model and inspiration to me since I first visited the museum in 1991," Kamps said. "I am tremendously excited about organizing exhibitions in the Menil's beautiful spaces and working with — and building — its extraordinary collection. The institution's emphasis on spirituality, diversity and social justice resonates with my own interests, and its amazing holdings provide a unique and thrilling context for aesthetic and life-engaged thinking."
Once Kamps assumes his post, we can expect future exhibitions with a broad range of modern-and-contemporary subjects, including major surveys of internationally known artists, provocative thematic shows, and intimate project-style endeavors — geared to engage general and academic audiences alike. To date, Kamps' projects have been characteristic simply for their breadth of media, spotlighting painting, sculpture, photography, installation and sound.
"We look forward to Toby's arrival," Helfenstein said. "At the Menil, he will continue to expand his range as a curator with eye-opening exhibitions, scholarly publications and exciting programs."