Va. scholar is named curator of modern art at Phila. Art Museum

Posted: February 24, 2013

The Philadelphia Museum of Art has named Matthew Affron, a scholar and curator at the University of Virginia, to the museum's prestigious post of curator of modern art, museum officials announced Friday.

Affron succeeds Michael Taylor, who was named head of the Hood Museum at Dartmouth College in 2011.

Timothy Rub, director of the Art Museum, also announced that Dirk H. Breiding, an assistant curator at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, has been named associate curator of arms and armor in Philadelphia. He succeeds Pierre Terjanian, who was named arms and armor curator at the Met in 2012.

In a telephone interview, Affron, 50, said he was excited to "be following Michael and so many other great curators" in working with the museum's collections.

Affron is an associate professor of art history at UVa and curator of modern art at the school's Fralin Museum. His scholarly focus has been on Fernand Léger, and he has written extensively about abstract art, the relationship between modern art and fascist ideology, European artists in exile in New York during World War II, and different aspects of the work of Léger and other artists of his generation in the early decades of the 20th century.

Rub, in a statement, said that Affron would bring "a set of skills that is perfectly suited" to the museum's needs.

"His commitment to scholarship as well as accessibility will enable us to utilize more fully an area of our collection that is known throughout the world for its scope, quality, and historical significance," Rub said.

Interestingly, the museum will be presenting a show built around Léger's The City (1919), one if its key modernist holdings, in the fall.

Affron had no hand in crafting "Fernand Léger and the Modern City," which opens in October. Rather, he has been absorbed working on an exhibition of Joseph Cornell's work and its relationship to surrealism in the 1930s and 1940s that the Fralin is presenting in collaboration with Musée des Beaux-Arts in Lyon, France.

But the museum's Léger exhibition suggests fruitful possibilities, Affron said Friday in a phone interview. "It's the kind of show that promises great things in the future," he said. "This collection [at the Art Museum] has great things."

Bringing out those "great things," exploring their relationships with other works, and using them as the basis for new scholarship, programs and community programs will be at least one of Affron's goals. He assumes his new duties Sept. 1.

Breiding, 42, who will now oversee arms and armor, received his undergraduate and graduate degrees in art history from University College, London, then worked as a research assistant and curator in the departments of Oriental antiquities and medieval and later antiquities at the British Museum. He began at the Met in 2001.

Rub praised Breiding's "broad knowledge of the field and his ability to communicate effectively with public audiences." He begins at the museum in early July.

Contact Stephan Salisbury

at 215-854-5594,, or @SPSalisbury on Twitter

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