By Nazanine Nouri
The Harvard Art Museums have appointed Mitra Abbaspour as their new curator of modern and contemporary art, as well as the head of the department. Abbaspour was previously a curator at the Princeton University Art Museum and at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
“Mitra’s stellar curatorial and teaching experience, her scholarly research interests, and her passion for connecting with audiences are deeply aligned with our mission,” said Martha Tedeschi, the director of the Harvard Art Museums.
Abbaspour is a specialist in art history of the Middle East, with a focus on the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries and on the history of photography in the region.
“Modern and contemporary artists are engaged with the concerns of our lived experiences,” said Abbaspour. “For me, the greatest reward of an academic museum lies in the opportunity to converse with scholars across a vast expanse of disciplines – literature, political science, architecture, climate science, or cell biology, to name a few, as well as art – and to consider the world we live in and its future.”
The Harvard Art Museum’s Division of Modern and Contemporary Art oversees a global art collection that includes more than 110,000 drawings, paintings, photographs, prints, sculptures, installations, objects of decorative art, and time-based media works. The collection has recently added a significant number of works by Black, Native American, and Asian diasporic artists, as well as works by female artists from Latin America and North America.
Abbaspour’s role at the Harvard Art Museums will be to rethink and reframe the permanent collections over a multi-year period, researching the collection and making new acquisitions, organizing major exhibitions, and leading conversations on critical issues in modern and contemporary art.
Mitra Abbaspour received her M.Phil. at the Graduate Center at City University New York, and her M.A. from the University of California, Riverside. Since 2016, she has served as the Haskell Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art at the Princeton University Art Museum, where she also headed the modern and contemporary collections.
Prior to Princeton, Abbaspour served as associate curator in the photography department at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, and as assistant curator for the California Museum of Photography, at the University of California, Riverside.
At MoMA, she led the curatorial research into the publication series: “Object: Photo: Modern Photographs 1909-1945.” She has written numerous essays on contemporary photography, and has contributed to monographs of the Iranian artists Farhad Moshiri, Shirin Neshat, and Reza Aramesh; the Moroccan artists Lalla Essaydi and Hassan Hajjaj; and the Israeli-Palestinian artist Dor Guez.
Abbaspour has taught courses on modern and contemporary Middle East as well as Islamic art, modern art and the history of photography at The Cooper Union, Hunter College and Brooklyn College.
The Harvard Art Museums are comprised of three institutions: the Fogg Museum which includes Western art from the Middle Ages to the present; the Busch-Reisinger Museum which is dedicated to the study of all modes and periods of art from central and northern Europe, with an emphasis on German-speaking countries; and the Arthur M. Sackler Museum which is focused on art from Asia, the Middle East, and the Mediterranean.