Anna Katherine Brodbeck’s favorite work at the Dallas Museum of Art is a billowing acrylic on canvas by artist Sam Gilliam titled Leaf, 1970, which the museum installed in its Hanley Quadrant Gallery a few months ago.
A cascading curtain of watercolor, it commands attention in the room, but in a subtle way — much like Brodbeck herself. The 31 year old is the DMA’s new assistant curator of contemporary art, a position she accepted following an impressive run as associate curator at the Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh.
Brodbeck, who goes by Katherine, arrives in Dallas armed with an acute understanding of art history (she received both her master’s and doctorate degrees from the Institute of Fine Arts at New York University) and lifelong admiration of Latin American and Islamic art.
Her chief duty at the DMA is using her strong background to acquire works from emerging artists for temporary exhibitions.
“Organizing shows allows you to take the pulse of a given moment,” says Brodbeck, “and to see how artists are responding to issues out in the ether, be they social, political, or aesthetic.”
The young curator first sparked an interest in art in middle school, when on a trip to her stepmother’s native Mexico. She became spellbound by the work of Spanish-Mexican surrealist Remedios Varo. “I got lost in her rich visual universe and emerged transformed,” Brodbeck says.
With the support of her father and stepmother — both musicologists with their own artistic chops — she pursued art as a career, finding mentors in her professors: Edward Sullivan, a pioneering specialist in modern Latin American art; and Adele Nelson, who introduced her to Brazilian art from the ’60s and ’70s.
Studying abroad at the Prado Museum in Madrid fueled Brodbeck’s fascination, as she immersed herself in the works of Velázquez, Goya, and Bosch. She dubs The Frick Collection — where she previously served as curatorial research assistant — her New York sanctuary, and also loves the wit of the Duchamp room at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
“A curator I recently worked with described the act of curating as conducting the artist’s score, and I think that’s true,” she says. “It’s our responsibility to bring an artist’s vision to bear, while framing it in comprehensive ways for audiences, and hopefully discovering something new or challenging old assumptions.”
Immense art historical knowledge aside, Brodbeck has a heap of diverse hobbies: traveling (particularly to Mexico City and Tokyo); going on long walks (she has never owned a car and lives within walking distance of the DMA); cuisine (but not cooking); and bowling (she was on her high school’s varsity team and can still bowl a turkey).
It’s this fusion of interests that make her a relatable character as much as a seasoned curator with an enthusiasm for presenting poignant contemporary exhibitions.
“My favorite part of preparing for a show is interviewing artists and their friends,” Brodbeck says. “It very much feels like recording an important living history.”
Anna Katherine Brodbeck
Occupation: Contemporary art curator.
Tools of the Trade: Moleskine workbook. Art history Ph.D. Keen eye.