WILLIAMSTOWN — An art scholar who brings with him international accolades and more than three decades of experience has been named as the new director of the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute.
Olivier Meslay, who currently is serving as head curator at the Dallas Museum of Art, will serve as the next Dena and Felda Hardymon director of The Clark. He is set to start his new job on Aug. 22.
The institute's board of directors was unanimous in its choice of Meslay after an international search conducted with the assistance of Korn Ferry New York. Meslay, who has ties to the Clark, replaces Michael Conforti, who retired in last August.
"We are thrilled to welcome Olivier Meslay as our new director," said Andreas Halvorsen, chairman of the institute's board of trustees. "Olivier's vision, international experience, and exceptional academic and curatorial qualifications match the Clark's ambitious aspirations. He comes to the Clark with a deep appreciation for our academic mission, an expert understanding of our museum program, and an energetic perspective on ways to enhance our dual mission and extend the Clark's reach and impact."
Meslay will be leaving his post at the DMA, where he serves as associate director of curatorial affairs, senior curator of European and American art, and The Barbara Thomas Lemmon Curator of European Art.
In 2000 and 2001, Meslay and his wife spent some time in Williamstown at The Clark as Fellows in the Research and Academic Program. While they were here, their children attended Williamstown Elementary School.
Meslay said they have been back for a visit nearly every year since. Their first visit to the Clark was in 1993.
"We have a longstanding relationship with the Clark," he told The Eagle during a phone interview Monday from his Dallas office. "And for me, a very important thing is the amazing network of museums, historical houses and energetic festivals concentrated in northern Berkshire County and a big part of the attraction of this place."
Born in Morocco, Meslay was raised in Casablanca and his family later moved to France.
Meslay spent 17 years working at the Musée du Louvre in Paris from 1993 to 2009. He served as curator in charge of British, American, and Spanish paintings from 1993–2006; as chief curator of Louvre–Atlanta, a collaborative project with the High Museum, from 2003–2006; and as chief curator in charge of the Louvre–Lens project, the first regional branch of the Louvre.
Since assuming his current position in 2012, Meslay has overseen the DMA's European and American art collection of more than 4,000 paintings, sculptures and works on paper, and has managed the museum's curatorial department, conservation program, and art research library.
Meslay served as the DMA's interim director from 2011–12, managing a staff of 250 employees, directing an extensive fundraising program, and coordinating donor relations that have provided continuing support for the museum. He joined the DMA staff in 2009 after his tenure in Paris.
One of the aspects of The Clark that intrigued Meslay, he said, was its reputation worldwide.
"Many local people may not be familiar with it the international reputation of The Clark not just for the fine art collection but for the education and research programs as well," he said.
He has also been impressed by the growth of The Clark's art collection.
"The works on paper collection is growing very fast, and the American art collection is quite amazing," he said. "It has expanded its collection quite a lot over the last 20 years."
"It was clear from the very beginning that he had a deep affinity for the Clark and for the unique relationship between our museum and research programs," said Francis Oakley, the Clark's interim director. "It is heartening to see such a long relationship culminate in this way. Olivier's passion for the Clark and for Williamstown and the Berkshires, combined with his extraordinary scholarship and leadership, hold great promise for the future."
Meslay said his hope is to build on what The Clark has already achieved.
"My most important idea is to maintain this amazing art collection and academic program," he said. "The Clark is at the very top of its category and strengthening that excellence will be my main preoccupation."
Joseph Thompson, director of the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art in North Adams, said he looked forward to welcoming his new counterpart.
"A reflexive internationalist, what I find so interesting about Olivier is that he is also a regionalist, having spent time in Dallas, and also here in the Berkshires. The Clark — and the Berkshires in general — walk that taut line, creating programs that are of interest to the world of culture at large, but also leavening of our life here at home. Olivier will get that."
In 2009, the French government honored Meslay as a Chevalier des Arts et Lettres in recognition of his contributions to furthering French arts and culture throughout the world. A graduate of the Institut National du Patrimoine (1992–1993), the French State School for Curators, Meslay received an master of arts from the École du Louvre in 1983, having previously received an master of arts from the Sorbonne in 1982, where he also earned his bachelor of arts in 1981. He is a member of the editorial board of The British Art Journal, London, and is a member of the Société d'Histoire de l'Art Français, Paris.
In Dallas, the European art collection at the DMA is recognized for the strength of its holdings of 18th, 19th, and 20th century paintings, sculpture, and works on paper. During his tenure, Meslay has been instrumental in leading the acquisition of several important works, including paintings by Gustave Caillebotte, Ernest Ludwig Kirchner, Paul Signac, Ramon Casas, Guillaume Guillon Lethière, Antoine Giroust, and Edouard Vuillard, as well as sculptures by Anne Whitney and Auguste Préault.
Meslay is the author of the recent publication "From Chanel to Reves: La Pausa and Its Collections at the Dallas Museum of Art (2015)." He served as the co-organizing curator for "Mind's Eye Masterworks on Paper from David to Cézanne (2014)" and co-organized the exhibition Chagall: Beyond Color (2013)" for the DMA.
He was also the organizing curator of an exhibition commemorating the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, "Hotel Texas: An Art Exhibition for the President and Mrs. John F. Kennedy (2013)." The exhibition brought together works of art installed in the presidential suite at Hotel Texas during Kennedy's November 1963 trip to Dallas.
Meslay has written several books, including "Mind's Eye: Masterworks on Paper from David to Cezanne (2014);" "Turner, Life and Landscape (2005);" and "J.M.W. Turner, The Man Who Set Painting on Fire (2005)."
Meslay's wife, Laure de Margerie, is a noted scholar on French sculpture and was also a Clark Fellow in 2000–01. She spent most of her career at the Musée d'Orsay before becoming the founding director of the French Sculpture Census — a comprehensive survey of French sculpture in American public collections—in 2009.
Meslay and de Margerie are the parents of three adult children.