‘Birth of the Cool’ curator to speak at Kemper

Elizabeth Armstrong, curator of “Birth of the Cool: California Art, Design, and Culture at Midcentury,” will discuss the exhibition at 1 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 20, at the Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum.


Armstrong’s talk will explore the motivations, processes and scholarship that went into creating this sprawling multimedia installation, which opens at the Kemper Art Museum Friday, Sept. 19, and remains on view through Jan. 5, 2009.

The exhibition examines the rise and influence of sleek West Coast modernism through more than 200 objects by figures ranging from architect Richard Neutra and designers Charles and Ray Eames to musicians such as Miles Davis and painters and sculptors such as Karl Benjamin and Pierre Koenig.

Armstrong, curator of contemporary art for the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, organized “Birth of the Cool” while she was on staff at the Orange County Museum of Art, where it debuted in fall 2007. The show has since traveled to the Addison Gallery of American Art in Andover, Mass., and to the Oakland Museum of California. Next spring, it will travel to the Blanton Museum of Art in Austin, Texas.

Armstrong joined the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, where she serves as assistant director for exhibitions and programs, in August 2008. She previously served as chief curator for the Orange County Museum of Art and as curator for the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis.

Armstrong has published widely and curated numerous of exhibitions of modern and contemporary art. In addition to “Birth of the Cool,” these include “Ultrabaroque: Aspects of Post-Latin American Art” (2000), three California Biennial exhibits (2002, 2004, 2006), “Girl’s Night Out” (2003), “American Moderns: Villa America, 1900-1950” (2005-06) and “Mary Heilmann Retrospective” (2007).

In 2007, Armstrong was one of 10 U.S. curators selected to participate in the inaugural year of the Center for Curatorial Leadership, a program at the Columbia Business School in New York designed to prepare top curators for positions in museum leadership. That same year, she received an Award for Excellence from the American Association of Museum Curators for the “Birth of the Cool” exhibition catalogue.

Other honors include a Special Exhibition Award from the International Association for Art Critics in Germany for “Peter Fischli and David Weiss: In a Restless World” (1998) and the International Association for Art Critics Award for the catalog to “In the Spirit of Fluxus” (1994-95).

Armstrong earned a master’s in art history from the University of California, Berkeley. She also holds a bachelor of arts in American studies from Hampshire College in Amherst, Mass.

The lecture is free and open to the public and takes place in Steinberg Hall Auditorium. A public reception will precede the talk at 12:30 p.m. in the Kemper Art Museum immediately adjacent to Steinberg Hall.

For more information, call 935-4523 or e-mail kemperartmuseum@wustl.edu.