Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum appoints new curator

Karen Butler named assistant curator for collections

Karen Butler, Ph.D., has been appointed assistant curator for collections at the Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum. The appointment is effective January 2, 2009.

Butler is currently the Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow in Matisse Studies at the Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia, PA, where she also serves as an adjunct lecturer in art history at the University of Pennsylvania. Her primary research interests are early- and mid-20th-century American and European art — areas in which the Kemper Art Museum has particularly strong holdings.

“With Karen on board, the organization of our curatorial department reflects the vision of the institution as a whole — a balance between the development, preservation and presentation of its outstanding permanent collection, and special exhibitions with a focus on modern and contemporary art,” said Sabine Eckmann, Ph.D., director and chief curator of the Kemper Art Museum. “Karen will research the collection and curate shows that highlight themes and important holdings in the collection.”

Butler is currently co-authoring a catalogue (with Yve-Alain Bois and Claudine Grammont) of the 59 works by Henri Matisse in the Barnes Foundation collection. Titled Matisse at the Barnes Foundation, the volume is forthcoming from Yale University Press in 2010. She is also editing (with Carol Murphy) a volume of correspondence between the French painter and sculptor Jean Fautrier (1898-1964) and the writer Jean Paulhan (1884-1968).

Butler earned a doctorate in art history from Columbia University in 2006, writing her dissertation on Jean Fautrier’s Resistance: Painting, Politics and the French Avant-garde, 1930-1955. In 2002 Butler curated and authored the catalogue (with Curtis Carter) for Jean Fautrier (1898-1964), the first American exhibition of the artist’s work. The show debuted at the Patrick and Beatrice Haggerty Museum of Art at Marquette University then traveled to Columbia’s Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Art Gallery and the Fogg Art Museum at Harvard University.

Proficient in French, Butler lived in Paris from 2000-04, thanks to a series of international grants and awards. In 2000 she won a prestigious Chateaubriand Fellowship from the Education Office of the Embassy of France in the United States. The following year she received the Jeanne Marandon Scholarship from the Société des Professeurs Français et Francophones d’Amérique. In 2002 she received Columbia’s Matisse Fellowship and in 2003 won an Annette Kade Foundation summer fellowship for study abroad.

Butler has published essays and exhibition reviews in Les Cahiers du Musée national d’art moderne and CAA Reviews and is currently working on an article titled “The Aesthetics of Uncommitment: Jean Dubuffet and Jean Fautrier’s Postwar Play with Painting.” She previously taught at Arcadia University in Philadelphia and served as an educator for K-12 school programs at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. In 1996 she served as a research assistant for the Robert Rauschenberg retrospective at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York.

In addition to her doctorate, Butler earned a master’s and a master’s of philosophy in art history from Columbia, in 1997 and 1999, respectively. She earned a bachelor’s degree in English literature from the University of California at Los Angeles in 1994.


The Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum boasts one of the finest university collections in the United States, including important paintings, sculptures, photographs and installations by 19th-, 20th- and 21st-century American and European artists. The museum dates back to 1881, making it the oldest art museum west of the Mississippi River.

As part of Washington University’s Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts, the Kemper Art Museum is committed to furthering critical thinking and visual literacy through a vital program of exhibitions, publications and accompanying events. Major thematic shows are drawn from institutions and private collections around the world, while the Contemporary Projects Series highlights nationally and internationally emerging artists.