Museums + Curating

Midnight to the Boom: Painting in India after Independence at the Peabody Essex Museum 2013

Midnight to the Boom: Painting in India after Independence
at the Peabody Essex Museum 2013

As senior curator for South Asian and Korean art at the Peabody Essex Museum, Susan established the museum’s first galleries for South Asian and Korean art  — the Herwitz Gallery, the first dedicated space in an American museum for South Asian modern and contemporary art, the Fadia Deshpande Gallery for traditional South Asian art, and the Korea Foundation Yu Kil-Chun Gallery for Korean Art. During her tenure at PEM, from 1983 to 2012, she created wide ranging exhibitions: see exhibition list here.

In 2013 she organized Midnight to the Boom: Painting in India after Independence, presenting three generations of painters between 1947 and the economic boom of the 1990s with work drawn principally from the Peabody Essex Museum’s Herwitz Collection. She was instrumental in bringing the core of the  Chester and Davida Herwitz Collection of Contemporary Indian Art, the most extensive of its kind outside India, to the museum as an endowed gift.

She developed the South Asian and Korean collections with the help of generous patrons adding major acquisitions from the Figiel Collection of South Indian ritual sculpture, the Paul Walter collection of vernacular Indian art, as well as a collection of Kalighat painting from 19th-century Calcutta, and important hanging scrolls, screens, and lacquer wares from Korea.

Kalighat beauty

Beautiful woman with flower. Watercolor. Kalighat, Calcutta,
c. 1870
© Peabody Essex Museum

In addition to curating and coordinating many installations of South Asian and Korean art at the Peabody Essex Museum. She also played a key role in the exhibition of PEM’s Korean collection at the National Museum in Seoul (1994), marking the first occasion on which a foreign collection was shown in Korea. She brought an exhibition from PEM to Calcutta as the official United States exhibition in honor of the city’s tercentenary in 1990. She also assisted with the first exhibitions shown at the new National Textile Museum in Thimphu, Bhutan, in 2001. She secured funding for exhibitions and collections research from the Asian Cultural Council (1990, 2000, 2003), the Carpenter Foundation (1994 and 2013), the Indo-U.S. Commission on Education and Culture (1990, 1994, 1996), the Museum Loan Network (1999, 2000, 2002), and the National Endowment for the Humanities (1990, 1992, 1994).

She served regularly as a peer reviewer for the National Endowment for the Humanities Panel on Humanities Projects in Museums and Historical Organizations and for the Institute for Museum Services. She served on the board of the Council for Museum Anthropology (1988 – 90) and was editor of the Council’s journal Museum Anthropology (1997 – 2000).

She was the recipient of a International Partnerships Among Museums Grant for an exchange with the Madras Craft Foundation, 2000-01. She participated in the annual Korea Foundation Curators’ Workshop for ten years. She was awarded a Mellon Fellowship in the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and held research or curatorial associate positions at the American Museum of Natural History, the Haffenreffer Museum, Brown University, and the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, Harvard University. She participated in the Museum Management Institute of the Getty Institution (1998). She has consulted for major museums, including most recently participating in the American Museum of Natural History planning for a new Asian hall.