Christine E. Brennan
(MA 2003, MPhil 2011, PhD Candidate) is senior research associate in the Department of Medieval Art and The Cloisters at The Metropolitan Museum of Art. She is a specialist in the history of collecting medieval art in nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Europe and America. Her dissertation, in progress at Bard Graduate Center, focuses on the Brummer Gallery, an art-dealing firm with branches in Paris and New York from the first half of the twentieth century. Christine’s previous graduate work included a master’s thesis on the renowned, but little studied, mid-nineteenth-century medieval collection assembled by Prince Pierre Soltykoff in Paris. She also has a master’s degree from New York University in medieval history in conjunction with a certificate in museum studies.

What attracted you to Bard Graduate Center’s program?

I entered the master’s program in 1996 and, some years later, in 2005, began coursework for the PhD. I was initially attracted to the program because it was one of the few that accepted students on a part-time basis. I previously completed a master’s degree at NYU and had been working full-time at The Metropolitan Museum of Art since 1992. At that point I was very interested in a museum career, and I felt strongly that it was important to continue full-time museum work. The BGC was really a forerunner in recognizing that many young professionals needed the opportunity to study part-time. Of course, now nearly all the programs—NYU, Columbia, Cooper Hewitt—allow part-time study. However, I was also very interested in the program because of its breadth of course offerings. While the study of medieval art and history was my primary interest, Bard Graduate Center offered the ability to study broader topics, from medieval and Renaissance art to the history of collecting and display, American decorative arts, and a wide variety of other courses. As a PhD student, these opportunities continued to be important to me. At the same time, the quality and diversity of the faculty also were crucial factors in my choice to continue at the BGC for the doctorate.

What is your focus of study here, how did you find yourself involved with it?

My focus of study was initially medieval art and culture. I fulfilled my required internship for the master’s degree by working at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. My work there helped me to decide to write a qualifying paper on a topic related to the history of collecting medieval art. Much of the credit for this idea goes to the late Clive Wainwright and my internship supervisor, Marian Campbell, both of whom provided critical encouragement. The focus of my thesis became the renowned medieval collection formed by the Russian collector, Prince Pierre Soltykoff, which was sold at auction in Paris in 1861. As I began PhD coursework in 2005 my initial plan was to continue work on the Soltykoff collection. However, the confluence of a work-related project and coursework turned me in a new direction. As I was contributing catalogue entries to a 2008 exhibition on Hearst as a collector at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, I began to study the records of the Brummer Gallery, an influential New York art-dealing firm that focused on medieval art. Many of the medieval works with Hearst provenances also had Brummer Gallery provenances. Ultimately, this project became a semester-long directed study at the BGC with Deborah Krohn. The larger topic of the Brummer Gallery and its impact in the United States on the formation of collections of medieval art from just before World War I through the 1950s became the topic of my dissertation and Professor Krohn became my dissertation advisor.

As both a master’s and a PhD student at Bard Graduate Center, I have been impressed with the dedication of the faculty and their focus on providing the necessary mentoring and advice to students. The close relationships and connections between the administration and faculty with colleagues at The Met has also made study at the BGC especially important to me, and I am sure also to other students. The mandatory Bard study trip and the internship, both requirements for master’s degree students, were particular highlights for me. My V&A internship was extremely influential in guiding my future research both at the BGC and at The Met. The study trip focused on modern Scandinavian design. We traveled to Copenhagen, Stockholm, and several other locations in Sweden. Though this was not my area of study, I still feel strongly that the general experience—meeting with scholars and learning about collections—provided an important opportunity for me to expand my knowledge base and to think about how my research interests fit into a broader context.

You work with The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Describe your position and your current and/or past projects.

My current position at The Met is senior research associate in the Department of Medieval Art and The Cloisters. My responsibilities combine the supervision and implementation of collections’ information initiatives for the department and curatorial work associated with the medieval art collection, such as permanent and temporary gallery installations, provenance research, incoming and outgoing loans, acquisitions, and special exhibitions. I was responsible, from its inception, for directing the department’s collections information initiatives, from the earliest stages when no digital data existed on more than 10,000 works of art, to supervising data review and developing consistent data entry standards going forward. I am fortunate because some of these responsibilities closely correspond to my graduate work. For example, my research has resulted in the addition of critical earlier history, especially of ownership and collection information, to the more than 330 works in our collection that passed through the Brummer Gallery’s stock in the first half of the twentieth century. I worked closely with curatorial staff on our major gallery reinstallations of 2000 and 2008, and I have been involved in all special exhibition projects of the last twenty years. More recently I have spearheaded a project to make our data more consistent and robust on the Museum’s website by publishing bibliographies, provenance information, and label chats for thousands of works in the collection.

What ultimately is your professional goal?

I believe that I am largely where I want to be professionally. For more than twenty years I have had the opportunity to work with The Met’s medieval collection and with fabulous colleagues at the premier art museum in the United States to make our unparalleled collections available to the public. My studies and experiences at Bard Graduate Center have contributed greatly to the development and fine-tuning of my research expertise. Furthermore, my relationships with faculty have led to my participation in BGC projects and publications such as the 2013 exhibition and publication on the architect-decorator and collector Georges Hoentschel, Salvaging the Past: Georges Hoentschel and French Decorative Arts from The Metropolitan Museum of Art. I plan to complete my doctorate in the next year or so. After that, my ultimate professional goal will be to increase my curatorial and research responsibilities and to become a curator at The Met or another museum. Bard Graduate Center has continued to play an important role in my professional development since my first year there as a part-time master’s student in 1996.