New Director for the Barber Institute

A new Director has been appointed for the Barber Institute  – Dr Jennifer Powell, alumna of the University’s Department of History of Art, Curating and Visual Studies.

Jennifer, currently Curator of Painting and Sculpture at the Royal Academy of Arts, London and Associate Professor at the University of Cambridge, will take up her duties as seventh Director of the Barber Institute on 9 January 2023, following the retirement in August this year of Nicola Kalinsky.

The University has also conferred on Dr Powell the title of Barber Professor of Fine Arts – in accordance with our historic Trust Deed – in recognition of her distinguished academic record.

After studying for her Bachelor’s degree in History and History of Art at the University, Jennifer also completed her Master’s and Doctorate at the University. Her academic career has included visiting lectureships at the Universities of Birmingham and Warwick and at the Sotheby’s Institute, while she has held the post of Associate Professor at Cambridge since 2013. Jennifer has also participated in large-scale research projects with the University of Glasgow and the Henry Moore Foundation. She is a respected scholar in the field of modern and contemporary art, especially sculpture and exhibition cultures since 1945, an area in which she has published widely.

Jennifer begun her curatorial career with the V&A before taking up the post of Assistant Curator of Modern British Art at Tate Britain in 2010. She was appointed Head of Collections, Programme and Research at Kettle’s Yard, University of Cambridge, in 2013, and played a key role in the gallery’s £11.5million redevelopment project. Jennifer led on the curation of major Kettle’s Yard exhibitions such as New Rhythms: Henri Gaudier-Brzeksa (2015), Subject. Antony Gormley (2018) and Richard Pousette-Dart Beginnings (2019), and worked extensively with contemporary artists including Sutapa Biswas, Anthea Hamilton, Linder Sterling and Ai Weiwei. She was also responsible for the acquisition of several major works of art for the collection, including work by Naum Gabo, whose Constructivist sculpture Linear Construction no. 1entered the Barber’s Collection in 2017.

Vice Chancellor, Professor Adam Tickell, today welcomed the appointment: “We are delighted to be able to announce Jennifer Powell’s appointment to this prestigious position. Jennifer is a distinguished gallery professional with an outstanding track record in curating collections and exhibitions and in public engagement – combined with exemplary academic credentials. We are confident that she is a worthy successor to the Directorship, and will further enhance the Barber’s standing.”

Professor Andrew Stockley, Head of the University’s College of Arts and Law, added: “It is extremely gratifying that home-grown talent such as Jennifer should forge such a stellar career as a scholar and curator – then return to the University to lead the Barber Institute. Jennifer’s academic strengths and interests, and her extensive curatorial experience – in particular, her commitment to public engagement in art and museums – will further enhance the Barber as a leading research institution as well as a ground-breaking public gallery. We look forward to working with Jennifer to ensure the Barber’s continuing development as a leading university museum, nationally and internationally.”

Hugh Carslake, Chairman of the Henry Barber Trust, which owns the fine art collection for the University and is an essential funder of the Barber Institute’s activities, said:“The Trustees were most impressed with Jennifer’s curriculum vitae and are very much looking forward to working with her. We are confident that she will bring a wealth of experience, innovation, ideas and energy to the Barber.”

Jennifer said“I am honoured to have the opportunity to work with the Barber Institute’s outstanding team to lead this exciting, respected and historic centre for art and music into the next phase of its development. The Barber is uniquely placed: it sits at the heart of a leading international university, whose founding principle was to be a civic space; it is also a free public museum for local, national and international audiences that forms part of the rich cultural networks across the city of Birmingham and the West Midlands. I look forward to collaborating with colleagues within the University and across the city, with artists and with local communities, to reimagine how this globally important art collection, gallery and music institute can continue to inspire visitors in the 21st century.

“The Barber Institute is a special place for me: as a former student of the Department of History of Art, I was lucky enough to learn art history through the direct study of objects from this extraordinary collection and to study within its beautiful Art Deco building. I know, first hand, what a transformative experience the Barber can have on people’s lives, and I hope that we can continue to find ways in which to share that with the widest possible audiences.”

  • Image – Jennifer was photographed by Cat Garcia