The dapper Frenchman who was officially the Dallas Museum of Art’s Senior Curator of European and American Art (among other titles) will be leaving next month after seven years to take over as director of the Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, Massachusetts. His departure comes only 10 months after DMA executive director Maxwell Anderson abruptly left to head up the New Cities Foundation — after a mere three years in office.
As a longtime, former curator at the Louvre in Paris, Meslay seemed something of a fish out of water in North Texas. But the unfailingly polite and accommodating administrator always explained that he saw the chance to move to Dallas as an exciting opportunity to try something fresh and different from the centuries-old traditions of French art. He brought to the DMA a clear and knowledgeable eye, plus his art-world connections — he re-attributed a number of overlooked works in the museum’s permanent collection and helped acquire new works by Gustave Caillebotte and Edouard Vuillard, among others.
But Meslay’s button-down politesse also hid a flair for the dramatic: He is still perhaps best-known for bringing ‘The Fashion World of Jean Paul Gaultier: From the Sidewalk to the Catwalk’ to the DMA in 2011. It was the first foray into couturier art by the museum and ranks as one of its most popular exhibitions, ever. In addition, he acclimated himself to North Texas’ concerns — he organized ‘Hotel Texas,’ the 2013 art exhibition commemorating the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, Hotel Texas: An Art Exhibition for the President and Mrs. John F. Kennedy (2013). He also organized “José Guadalupe Posada: The Birth of Mexican Modern Art,” an exhibition that was included in the Museum’s nine-month celebration of the Mexican Bicentennial in 2010, and Texas Sculpture (2010).
The full release:
DMA’s Associate Director of Curatorial Affairs Olivier Meslay Named
Director of Clark Art Institute
Dallas, TX, June 13, 2016— Olivier Meslay, Associate Director of Curatorial Affairs, Senior Curator of European and American Art, and The Barbara Thomas Lemmon Curator of European Art at the Dallas Museum of Art, will be stepping down from his position next month after seven years in leadership roles at the DMA. Meslay, an accomplished museum professional and noted scholar with more than 35 years of international experience, has been named the Dena and Felda Hardymon Director of the Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, Massachusetts. He will become the Clark’s fifth director when he assumes his new role in August. Meslay will replace Michael Conforti, who retired from the Clark in August 2015.
“Olivier Meslay’s seven years at the DMA have been marked by curatorial excellence, exceptional institutional achievement and extraordinary, energetic leadership,” said Walter B. Elcock, the Museum’s Interim Director. “He is a gifted curator, a well-respected scholar and colleague, and a remarkable administrator. While we enthusiastically celebrate his new appointment to the Clark Art Institute, he will be greatly missed in Dallas—especially in the offices and galleries of the Museum. We wish him tremendous success at the Clark.”
Since assuming his current position in 2012, Meslay has overseen the DMA’s European and American art collection of more than 4,000 paintings, sculptures and works on paper and managed the Museum’s curatorial department, conservation program, and art research library. He has also served as the DMA’s curatorial representative with the French Regional and American Museum Exchange (FRAME), a collaborative organization partnering 30 North American and French museums.
Meslay served as the DMA’s Interim Director from 2011 to 2012, managing a staff of 250 employees, directing an extensive fundraising program, and coordinating donor relations that have provided continuing support for the Museum. During this time, he led the DMA’s presentation of The Fashion World of Jean Paul Gaultier: From the Sidewalk to the Catwalk, the critically acclaimed international exhibition devoted to the celebrated French couturier. It ranks as one of the most highly attended exhibitions in the Museum’s history and also marks the first time that the DMA presented an exhibition dedicated to exploring the art of contemporary fashion. Meslay joined the DMA staff in 2009, after a distinguished career at the Musée du Louvre in Paris.
Meslay is the author of the recent publication From Chanel to Reves: La Pausa and Its Collections at the Dallas Museum of Art (2015). He served as the co-organizing curator for Mind’s Eye: Masterworks on Paper from David to Cézanne (2014), and co-organized the exhibition Chagall: Beyond Color (2013) for the DMA. Meslay was the organizing curator of an exhibition commemorating the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, Hotel Texas: An Art Exhibition for the President and Mrs. John F. Kennedy (2013). The exhibition brought together works of art installed in the presidential suite at Hotel Texas during Kennedy’s November 1963 trip to Dallas. He served as organizing curator for Vermeer Suite: Music in 17th-Century Dutch Painting (2016), José Guadalupe Posada: The Birth of Mexican Modern Art, an exhibition that was included in the Museum’s nine-month celebration of the Mexican Bicentennial in 2010, and Texas Sculpture (2010).
The European art collection at the DMA is recognized for the strength of its holdings of 18th-, 19th- and 20th-century paintings, sculpture and works on paper. During his tenure, Meslay has been instrumental in leading the acquisition of several important works including paintings by Gustave Caillebotte, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Paul Signac, Johan Christian Dahl, Ramon Casas, Guillaume Guillon Lethière, Edouard Vuillard and Jean-Antoine Théodore Giroust, as well as sculptures by Anne Whitney and Auguste Préault.
“I am immensely grateful to the DMA and to Dallas for the amazing opportunities I have been given. These past seven years have been among the most exciting and rewarding of my professional career. The staff, the community, and the patrons of the Museum have all been great partners, extremely open to new ideas,” said Meslay. “Friendship and energy are the two words I associate with my tenure at the DMA,” he added. “I was able to make incredible acquisitions of works of art for the collection thanks to the generosity of long-time supporters of the DMA. I am also particularly happy to have been able to bring to the public an exhibition like Hotel Texas, which is now part of the history of Dallas.”
Meslay held a variety of leadership positions at the Musée du Louvre over 16 years, from 1993 to 2009. He served as curator in charge of British, American and Spanish paintings from 1993 to 2006; as chief curator of Louvre–Atlanta, in collaboration with the High Museum, from 2003 to 2006, and as chief curator in charge of the Louvre–Lens project, the first permanent branch of the Louvre outside Paris, from 2006 to 2009. During his tenure at the Louvre, Meslay organized such exhibitions as William Hogarth (2006–2007), American Artists and the Louvre (2006), L’art anglais dans les collections de l’Institut (2004), and La collection de Sir Edmund Davis (1999). Meslay also served as a professor at the École du Louvre from 1997 to 2000 and 2003 to 2006.
In 2009 the French government honored Meslay as a Chevalier des arts et lettres in recognition of his contributions to the influence of French culture. A graduate of the Institut National du Patrimoine (1992–1993), the French State School for Curators, Meslay received an MA from the École du Louvre in 1983, having previously received an MA from the Sorbonne in 1982, where he also earned his BA in 1981. Meslay is a member of the editorial board of The British Art Journal, London, and is a member of the Société d’Histoire de l’Art Français, Paris.
Meslay’s wife, Laure de Margerie, is a noted scholar on French sculpture and the founding director of the Dallas-based French Sculpture Census, a comprehensive survey of French sculpture in American public collections.
The selection of a new Associate Director of Curatorial Affairs will be considered upon the appointment of the DMA’s next Eugene McDermott Director, which the Museum expects to announce in the coming months.