We are delighted to welcome our new Curator of European Art, Robert Schindler, Ph.D. Schindler’s area of specialty is Northern European Art, yet his experience encompasses the entire range of material that he will be responsible for here in Birmingham. His scholarly expertise and strong museum experience will shine new light on diverse aspects of the Museum’s collection. This shift in leadership of the European collection will surely lead to new and exciting opportunities for the BMA. Dr. Schindler is the second curator to hold this position at the Museum, and he began his appointment on December 2, 2013.
My Museum, the BMA’s magazine, interviewed Robert shortly after his arrival.
My Museum Magazine: Tell us a little bit about yourself.
Robert Schindler: I was born and raised in Berlin, Germany, where I also went to school and eventually received a Ph.D. from the Free University. In high school I spent 6 months in West Virginia as an exchange student, which was my first encounter with the US. While pursuing my Ph.D., I came back to the States to work in the manuscript department at the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles, after which I returned to Munich to finish my graduate work. My first position was a research and teaching fellowship at Columbia University between 2010 and 2012, and then I went to work in the European Art Department of the Detroit Institute of Arts. I am joining the BMA from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, where I have held a post-doctoral curatorial fellowship in the department of Medieval Art and The Cloisters. I am moving to Birmingham with my wife and our little daughter, who recently turned two.
MM: How would you describe your curatorial style?
RS: I deeply believe in the power of art to enrich our lives and my goal is to let the art speak for itself whenever possible. At the same time, it may be that the art of a distant past is not immediately accessible to a modern day audience and, at the Museum, it is our job to help the visitor better understand the artworks’ meaning, context, and history. In the past I have always enjoyed working with my curatorial colleagues—docents, patrons, and visitors—and I look forward to continuing that in Birmingham. I think my curatorial style is really shaped by my passion for museum work in all its facets, as many people and many forms of expertise create a rewarding experience for the visitor.
MM: What is one of your top priorities in your new position?
RS: First and foremost, my goal is to provide the best possible care for the collection. These works have been entrusted to us and it is our responsibility to preserve them for our enjoyment and for future generations. Birmingham has an important collection, so one of my top priorities will be to continue to bring great art to the Museum, whether it is through acquisitions, individual loans, or exhibitions. I hope to increase interest in the Museum among the people of Birmingham, but I also hope to raise awareness beyond Birmingham. When I travel nationally and even internationally I want people to say: “Oh, yes, I have heard of the BMA and its collection!” I hope I can help make Birmingham proud of its Museum.
MM: What do you find of most interest in the Museum’s European art collection?
RS: There are many gems to be discovered in the BMA’s European collection and I look forward to learning the collection and its history. One of my favorites already is the remarkable and, in many ways enigmatic, Battle of Pavia by an unknown Flemish painter. To give another example, Ruisdael’s Winter Landscape is an exceptionally beautiful and intimate painting. I am also intrigued by the breadth of the French collection; there is so much to discover and explore.
MM: What are you most excited about for your move to Birmingham?
RS: I am excited to help care for a collection of such quality, scope, and diversity, and to work with colleagues to make the collection relevant to the people of Birmingham and its visitors. I very much look forward to working with and shaping such a diverse collection of European art, ranging from the 13th-19th centuries and encompassing works in a variety of media. On a personal note, my family and I are very much looking forward to living in Birmingham, which seems to us a perfect place to raise our little daughter. We have already encountered so many extremely nice and helpful people, and we look forward to becoming part of the Birmingham community.