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The Huntington names a new director for its art collections

Christina Nielsen has been appointed director of the art collections at the Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens.
(Darren Pellegrino / Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens)

The Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens’ new president doesn’t officially start her post until Sept. 1, but change is already underfoot: The San Marino museum will announce on Thursday the appointment of Christina Nielsen as its new director of the art collections.

Nielsen comes to the Huntington from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, where she has worked in different curatorial roles since 2014, most recently as curator of the collection and exhibition program.

Nielsen is no stranger to the Los Angeles area. She worked at the J. Paul Getty Museum from 2001 to 2003, first as a graduate intern to the curator of illuminated manuscripts, and later as a research assistant to the Getty Research Institute’s curator of rare books.

“I’m absolutely thrilled to be heading back to L.A. and to be working at the Huntington. I’ve always loved it,” said Nielsen, who also has held curatorial positions at the Art Institute of Chicago and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. “I lived on the Westside. but would go out to the Huntington regularly, like a lot of people, to stroll through the gardens and look at the collections and the books and the art, the whole multi-sensory experience. The Huntington, I thought, was extremely special in what was already a really vibrant ecosystem.”

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Nielsen was hired by the Huntington’s incoming president, Karen R. Lawrence, who in a statement said “Christina is precisely the leader who will help us accomplish key goals — growing the resources, impact and prominence of the art collections and fostering inventive interaction with our great collections in the library and botanical gardens.”

The Huntington has been without an art collections director for more than a year, since Kevin Salatino departed in March 2017. The museum’s chief curator of European art, Catherine Hess, has been interim director. When Nielsen takes her post on Oct. 15, she will oversee about 36,000 objects on view in the Huntington Art Gallery and the recently renovated and expanded Virginia Steele Scott Galleries of American Art. She also will oversee temporary exhibitions.

Los Angeles, Nielsen said, is a far different city than the one she lived in more than a decade ago.

“I’ve watched L.A. explode over the last 15 years and it’s so different now — the museums and the galleries and the studios and the artists, there’s incredible opportunity,” she said. “And I think there’s a huge opportunity at the Huntington. There’s a lot of good work that’s already happening there, but we can really amplify it.”

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Nielsen has two chief goals, she said.

“The first is to kind of integrate, for visitors, the different aspects of the institution. What the symbiosis is, really, between different types of art,” she said, referring to the gardens as well as the Huntington’s visual and literary art collections.

The second, she said, was related to the art collections themselves.

“There’s a huge opportunity to expand the narrative — to grow the collections through acquisitions and to sort of provide more pathways in and more of a welcome,” Nielsen said. “I’d love to see more female artists represented. I’d love to see beautiful paintings like ‘The Blue Boy’ or ‘Pinkie,’ beautiful several-hundred-year-old portraits of people. They raise fabulous issues. The museum is a keeper of social memory. But it’s also a platform for thinking about not only what the past can teach us, but how we interpret the past and how we want to shape the present.”

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deborah.vankin@latimes.com

Twitter: @debvankin


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