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Cornered: Michael Mansfield

Michael Mansfield outside the Ogunquit Museum of American Art.


Michael Mansfield

Eric Taubert

As the Ogunquit Museum of American Art (OMAA) prepares to open the doors for its 64th Season on May 1, a new executive director stands at the helm. After a nine-month nationwide search, the museum board selected Michael Mansfield, former curator of film and media arts at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, to fill the position. Ogunquit fine art photographer (and frequent Artscope contributor) Eric Taubert “cornered” Mansfield in mid-April, as the newly minted executive director was hard at work preparing the galleries for opening day. The dialogue they shared casts clarifying light on Mansfield’s intentions to deliver the OMAA into a new and vibrant era — while continuing to honor everything people have long come to know and love about the venerated museum.

SO, TELL ME … WHAT HAPPENS WHEN ONE OF AMERICA’S FOREMOST EXPERTS IN NEW MEDIA ART BECOMES THE EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR OF A CHERISHED MUSEUM BORN OF TWO OF AMERICA’S EARLIEST ART COLONIES?

It’s fun to hear it phrased that way. Contrast is thrilling. America’s earliest art colonies — certainly those here in Ogunquit — were themselves born from new and experimental art practices. These were artists seeking to engage with something unseen, to break the mold and find new modes of expression. It’s not unlike artists working with contemporary technologies today. I do feel there are fascinating parallels. But at the same time, it is exciting to shake things up. The same things that attracted these painters, writers and sculptors to Maine at the turn of the 20th century are drawing me and others here now. I’m just coming with a different set of tools.

IN THE PRESS RELEASE ANNOUNCING YOUR APPOINTMENT AS EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR OF THE OMAA, YOU WERE QUOTED AS SAYING THIS “PROMISES TO BE A TRANSFORMATIVE CHAPTER IN THE MUSEUM’S HISTORY.” WHAT EXACTLY ARE YOU LOOKING TO BRING TO THE OMAA — AND HOW DO YOU EXPECT IT TO CHANGE DURING YOUR TENURE?

So much has been accomplished here at OMAA in the past 60-plus years. I’m honored to now be a part of its history and to be entrusted with its future. Now is just the next chapter in what I think is a storied history. I find myself surprised nearly every time I walk in the door. If it’s not the view or the grounds that do it, it is something in the collection that surprises me. I aim to find novel ways to bring that out, and I mean to develop an innovative program that leverages the rich history of this place toward new and creative endeavors.

WITH THE DEPTH OF YOUR KNOWLEDGE BASE IN THE FILM, MEDIA AND TIME-BASED ART REALMS, WE IMAGINE YOU’D LIKE TO EVENTUALLY INTRODUCE SOME OF THOSE ELEMENTS INTO THE EXHIBITIONS AT THE OMAA. TO MY KNOWLEDGE, THE OMAA HASN’T OFTEN VEERED FROM THE MORE TRADITIONAL “PAINTING, SCULPTURE, DRAWING, PRINT AND PHOTOGRAPH” DOMAINS. HOW DO YOU EXPECT TO PUT YOUR MEDIA ART ACUMEN TO WORK IN WAYS THAT BENEFIT THE MUSEUM?

OMAA has an outstanding history of exhibiting modern, contemporary art, and that has been the case since its inception. While OMAA may not have a history of exhibiting moving images or media art thus far, that will most certainly change. I believe there is room for both still and moving pictures, and so did Charles Woodbury. As the founder of one of these early art colonies and schools, he insisted that his students “paint in verbs, not nouns,” and even used films to teach his students to paint in motion. The precedent is built in. I couldn’t be more excited to bring my experience in media art to that story.

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