Meet a Curator: Reto Thüring, Beal Family Chair of Contemporary Art

Museum Council

Reto Thüring reflects on several new exhibitions and shares his thoughts on the future of contemporary art at the MFA.

What have you been most excited about since joining the MFA last year?

It has been an exciting first year in so many ways and I feel like we are just getting started with defining the role of contemporary art in the context of the MFA’s long history and magnificent collection. Since I started, the department of Contemporary Art has added two new curators and we are in the final stages of hiring two curatorial assistants. It is only as a team—with a shared set of values but at the same time different points of view and areas of expertise—that we can write a next chapter for contemporary art.

How did your work at the Transformer Station in Cleveland influence your role at the Cleveland Museum of Art, and what experience and lessons have you looked to implement at the MFA?

Before I came to the MFA, I worked for six years at the Cleveland Museum of Art. Around the time of my arrival in Cleveland, the Museum entered a unique partnership with the Transformer Station, an exhibition space located on the city’s west side. The space is currently owned and operated by the Fred and Laura Ruth Bidwell Foundation, and the foundation has promised the Transformer Station facility and property as a future gift to the museum in 2026. The satellite space gave us the opportunity to present contemporary art exhibitions, programming, and performing arts events in a spectacular setting for six months of the year. We used the Transformer Station as a laboratory, think tank, and place for the museum to uncover new opportunities and take risks. In order to take advantage of the creative potential that contemporary art can bring to larger, comprehensive museums, it is essential to carve out space for that creative energy to flourish—during my time at the CMA, the Transformer Station was an ideal venue to explore, experiment, and think.

What does the future look like for modern and contemporary art at the MFA?

This is a philosophical as well as practical question. I like to think of it as “specificity.” How can we, the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, be specific about contemporary art in the contexts of one of the world’s great comprehensive collections, the impressive history of this place, and the city of Boston? The different contemporary projects currently on view—“Contemporary Art: Five Propositions,” “Read My Lips,” the new banner commission by Robert Pruitt, and “Mural: Jackson Pollock | Katharina Grosse”—are each specific to the MFA. They reconsider stories that have been told, not deeming these narratives obsolete, but making sure that the past is folded into the present. “Folding the past into the present”—borrowing an expression and metaphor that Gilles Deleuze so beautifully applied—encompasses a lot of what I mean by specificity: the consideration of contemporary art within a broader, transhistorical, transcultural context.

What is your favorite object in the collection and why?

I have been here more than a year and I still discover new works almost every day. At the moment, my favorite object is a triangulation of three separate works. For “Contemporary Art: Five Propositions,” we invited Lucy Dodd to create a new large-scale painting that also functions as an architectural partition, dividing and relating to the groups of works on either side of it. Dodd decided to look back to the oldest painting on view in the exhibition, Odilon Redon’s Lange du Destin, from 1899, hanging it directly on the gridded stretcher of her work’s central panel. Redon’s work, in turn, faces a magnificent painting from 1962 by American artist Bob Thompson. Together, they show how works of art made decades and centuries apart can speak to each other in meaningful ways.