Dr Halona Norton-Westbrook (completed in 2013)
Between The ‘Collection Museum’ and The University: The Rise of the Connoisseur-Scholar and the Evolution of Art Museum Curatorial Practice, 1900-1940
This thesis investigates the evolution of curatorial practice in Britain and the United States in the first four decades of the twentieth century through an analysis of the formative years of two museums, the Wallace and Frick Collections, and of two academic programmes, the Fogg Art Museum Course at Harvard University and the Courtauld Institute of Art at the University of London. Through these case studies, this study charts the emergence and development of a specialised curatorial knowledge base that was influenced by traditions of connoisseurship and criticism and shaped by discussions surrounding art history’s disciplinary parameters taking place in the museum, the press, the art market and the university. This investigation makes visible the processes through which art museum curators, keepers and directors collaborated in the creation and standardisation of their own expertise and contends that this quest was fundamentally intertwined with struggles for authority, agency and professional recognition.
The manifestation of this expertise resulted in a renegotiation of institutional power dynamics and gave rise to a new type of art museum leader: the connoisseur-scholar, who performed an important function in the art museum’s transition from a space dominated by gentlemanly amateurs to one in which academically trained art historians increasingly assumed positions of authority. Asserting that the formation of this knowledge base cannot be separated from the academic institutionalisation of art history and curatorial training, this study demonstrates that individuals operating in the spheres of the art museum and the university were engaged in a dialogue through which the core values of these respective endeavours were realised. Detailing these processes and relationships and locating them within the context of a shift towards aesthetic idealism, this thesis provides insight into the historical origins of modern-day curatorial practice in Britain and the United States.
Halona Norton-Westbrook currently serves as the third post-doctoral Andrew W. Mellon Fellow at the Toledo Museum of Art. The fellowship program, underwritten by a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, endeavours to train the next generation of museum leaders by giving them opportunities to learn the Museum’s inner workings firsthand by working in the director’s office as part of the executive staff. Fellows not only take part in strategic planning for the institution but are also immersed in curatorial work.
Norton-Westbrook, who received her BA from Mills College in Oakland, California, holds an MA in Art History from the Courtauld Institute of Art in London and a PhD in Museology from the University of Manchester. Her doctoral research centered on the history of curating in American and British art museums.
Norton-Westbrook has worked on a number of diverse curatorial projects at museums in the US and the UK, with past engagements at the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, the Mills College Art Museum, the Courtauld Institute of Art Gallery, and London’s Garden Museum. Dr. Norton-Westbrook’s curatorial focus at the Toledo Museum of Art is primarily in modern and contemporary art.