Jeannie Kenmotsu, Ph.D., appointed as Asian Art Curator of Portland Art Museum

The Portland Art Museum is pleased to announce that Jeannie Kenmotsu, Ph.D., has been appointed as The Arlene and Harold Schnitzer Curator of Asian Art

Dr. Kenmotsu, who joined the Museum’s curatorial staff in 2017 as Japan Foundation Assistant Curator of Japanese Art and was promoted to Associate Curator in 2019, has also been serving as Interim Head of Asian Art since the retirement of Dr. Maribeth Graybill in October 2019.

“I am thrilled about Dr. Kenmotsu’s appointment to this position,” said Director and Chief Curator Brian Ferriso. “Having already worked with Jeannie for a number of years, I am incredibly impressed with her exceptional art historical knowledge that she combines with her passion for the art of today. It is a wonderful and rare combination that will serve our Museum and community in many meaningful and exciting ways.”

Since 2017, Dr. Kenmotsu has brought a fresh vision to the Museum’s important collection of Japanese art, gifted in the early days of the Museum’s history and among the earliest institutional Asian art collections on the West Coast. Dr. Kenmotsu has organized five highly regarded exhibitions based on the Portland Art Museum’s permanent collection, including Dramatic Impressions: Japanese Actor Prints (2019), and the current exhibitions Objects of Contact: Encounters between Japan and the West (through February 28, 2021) and Joryū Hanga Kyōkai, 1956–1965: Japan’s Women Printmakers (through April 11, 2021). She was an integral member of the curatorial team behind the special exhibition Poetic Imagination in Japanese Art: Selections from the Collection of Mary and Cheney Cowles (2018/19), curated by her predecessor Dr. Graybill, and served as co-editor of the accompanying catalogue. She has also expanded collaborations in the Portland community, bringing her interests in materiality and technical art history to a collaborative project with the Lasseter-Clare Lab at Portland State University to investigate colorants in Japanese ukiyo-e prints. This project  was part of the Mellon Foundation-funded Pacific Northwest Conservation Science Consortium, in conjunction with Dr. Kenmotsu’s 2018 exhibition Suzuki Harunobu and the Culture of Color

Dr. Kenmotsu’s role as the Assistant (later Associate) Curator of Japanese Art was made possible through the generous support of the Japan Foundation, in the form of a $485,000 Museum Infrastructure Grant, which has also underwritten Japanese exhibition and gallery renovation costs over a five-year period. 

As the Arlene and Harold Schnitzer Curator of Asian Art, Dr. Kenmotsu will now bring her vision to an outstanding permanent collection of nearly 6,000 historical and modern works of art from the diverse cultures of Asia dating from the 13th century BCE to the present. The Museum’s Asian Art collection includes more than 70 unique objects from the Han Dynasty of China (206 BCE  220 CE), gifted by the late Arlene and Harold Schnitzer and appreciated by collectors and scholars worldwide. The Schnitzer family’s legacy of support for the Portland Art Museum is unparalleled, including important gifts of art, curatorial endowments in Asian and Northwest Art, generous exhibition support, and leadership in Museum capital campaigns including Mrs. Schnitzer’s historic gift of $10 million in January 2020 to expand Museum accessibility and build the Rothko Pavilion. Dr. Kenmotsu’s position is named in honor of the Schnitzers’ generous support and continuing legacy. 

Jordan Schnitzer, the son of Arlene and Harold Schnitzer and himself a stalwart supporter of the Museum, expressed his family’s pleasure at seeing Dr. Kenmotsu as the Museum’s Curator of Asian Art, a position his parents endowed. Mr. Schnitzer also announced the bequest to the Museum of additional Han Dynasty objects from his late mother, who passed away April 4, 2020. The Museum will announce more details of the bequest in the future.

“Our family’s involvement with Asian art goes back over 50 years,” Mr. Schnitzer said. “My aunt Mildred Schnitzer was a founder of both the Japanese Garden Society of Oregon as well as the Portland Art Museum’s Asian Art Council. My late parents also had a passion for the art and culture of Asia. The Han collection that now resides at the Portland Art Museum was collected throughout their lifetime, and I am pleased to announce that my late mother Arlene has left another 113 amazing Han pieces to the museum. Many have said that it ranks as one of the finest Han collections in any museum in this country!

“I know how excited my late parents would be to welcome Dr. Jeannie Kenmotsu as The Arlene and Harold Schnitzer Curator of Asian Art to the Portland Art Museum,” Mr. Schnitzer continued. “We all look forward to learning much from Dr. Kenmotsu and seeing new exhibitions that further our appreciation of the art of Asia.”

A native of Austin, Texas, Dr. Kenmotsu holds a B.A. in English from Pomona College (magna cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa). She received her M.A. and Ph.D. degrees from the History of Art department at the University of Pennsylvania, where her dissertation focused on eighteenth-century Japanese illustrated books. She was a visiting research scholar at Keio University in Tokyo in 2011–12, as well as a visiting assistant professor of art history at Scripps College in 2016, and has worked in curatorial departments of the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Getty Museum. Dr. Kenmotsu is a Senior Fellow of the Andrew W. Mellon Society of Fellows in Critical Bibliography, affiliated with Rare Book School at the University of Virginia. 

“I am honored to assume the stewardship of this important collection of Asian art, and delighted to continue working with the Museum’s rigorous and creative curatorial team,” said Dr. Kenmotsu. “This is an exciting moment for exploring the boundaries of how we understand Asian art and its diasporas, from historical works to the art of our time. I look forward to further study of these fantastic objects and artists and developing innovative ways to share their stories with Portland, the region, and the world.”

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