Sarah Kennel, Ph.D: New Curator of Photography at Peabody Essex Museum. © 2015 National Gallery of Art, Washington
SALEM, MA — Sarah Kennel, Ph.D. has been appointed the new curator of photography at the Peabody Essex Museum (PEM). A seasoned curator and writer, Kennel joins PEM in September from the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., where she held a nine-year curatorial tenure. At the National Gallery of Art, Kennel helped oversee the National Gallery’s permanent collection and managed an active exhibition program.
A native of Los Angeles, Kennel who speaks French and Italian fluently holds a Ph.D. in art history from the University of California, Berkeley, where she completed her dissertation on the relationship between dance and the visual arts in early 20th-century Paris. She did her undergraduate degree at Princeton University.
Kennel has a vast curatorial experience. In 2013, she curated an interdisciplinary exhibition on the Ballets Russes, in partnership with the Victoria and Albert Museum. Titled Diaghilev and the Golden Age of the Ballets Russes, 1909-1929: When Art Danced with Music, the exhibition not only reinforced Kennel’s love of dance but also showed her outstanding ability at curating interdisciplinary exhibition. The show brought together costumes, textiles, film, music and dance performances. Diaghilev and the Golden Age of the Ballets Russes, 1909-1929: When Art Danced with Music earned Kennel an AICA-USA Award for Excellence in Art Criticism and Curatorial Achievement.
As a writer, Kennel has also won important awards. In 2013, her essay on Charles Marville, a little-known French photographer who captured rapid and dramatic change in 19th-century Paris won first prize from the Association of Art Museum Curators. The related exhibition, Charles Marville: Photographer of Paris, a travelling show also curated by Kennel traveled to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.
Kennel joined the National Gallery of Art’s department of photography after her pre-doctoral fellowship at the museum’s Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts. There, she contributed to numerous shows, including André Kertész (2005), Irving Penn: The Platinum Prints (2005) and The Art of the American Snapshot (2007). She has also curated or co-curated Paris in Transition: Photographs from the National Gallery of Art (2007); In the Forest of Fontainebleau: Painters and Photographers from Corot to Monet (2008); In the Darkroom: Photographic Processes Before the Digital Age (2009) and The Serial Portrait: Photography and Identity in the Last One Hundred Years (2012).
Based on her experience, there is high expectation that Kennel will bring a fresh perspective to the PEM’s vast photography collection, developing exhibitions that celebrate photography’s global impact and reach. Numbering at approximately 800,000, PEM’s collection of photographs spans the 19th-century through today. The collection which began with the acquisition in 1840 of Vincent Chevalier’s daguerreotype of Pont Neuf in Paris, includes some of the world’s finest 19th- and early 20th-century photographs of Asia, as well as historic and modern American photography, especially related to New England, the maritime world and Native American life.
Lynda Roscoe Hartigan, PEM’s James B. and Mary Lou Hawkes Chief Curator notes that the addition of Kennel’s appointment will serve the museum well. She notes: “Sarah’s comprehensive knowledge of the artistic and technological history of the medium, combined with her appetite for the interdisciplinary and photography’s dialogue with multiple art forms, will advance PEM’s reputation as a top-flight cultural destination that provides fascinating, provocative experiences with photography.”