Earlier today, the Nasher Museum of Art announced that it had made a major art hire, tapping Lauren Haynes as the Patsy R. and Raymond D. Nasher Senior Curator of Contemporary Art. Haynes will start at the museum on June 7. 

“I love museums. They drive me crazy, they frustrate me every day,” Haynes said in a press release. “But I don’t know what else I would do if I didn’t work in a museum, work with artists, make exhibitions, think about how we can allow people to have access to art and access to exhibitions and artists in ways that they might not have.”

Haynes has worked as a curator of contemporary art at the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art since 2016, where she was responsible for co-curating the soulful, high-profile The Beyond: Georgia O’Keeffe and Contemporary Art exhibition, which ran at the North Carolina Museum of art from late 2018 to early 2019. She also coordinated the first United States presentation of the internationally acclaimed Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power, and led the curatorial team for the expansive State of the Art 2020 exhibition. 

“I am thrilled that Lauren is joining our team,” Nasher director Trevor Schoonmaker said in the press release, adding that he and Haynes first met in 2008 at the Barkley L. Hendricks: Birth of the Cool exhibit at Studio Museum of Harlem, where, beginning in 2006, Haynes worked as the associate curator of the permanent collection, organizing exhibitions for the likes of Alma Thomas, Richard Hunt, and Ebony G. Patterson.

Haynes worked at the Studio Museum for a dozen years before heading South in 2016 to Bentonville, Arkansas, where the Crystal Bridges Museum of Contemporary Art is located.  

“Over the past 15 years, she’s developed a deep understanding of the global art world and I’m very excited for her to bring her curatorial vision and vast experience to the Nasher, Duke and our communities,” Schoonmaker continued. 

As a student at Oberlin, Haynes expected to pursue a career in law, but fell into the curatorial world when she started a work-study career as the director’s assistant at Allen Memorial Art Museum. There, everything changed. 

“The woman who was the director of the art museum at the time, Sharon Patton, was an African-American woman who was a huge scholar in African-American art history—she literally wrote the book on many of these subjects, something I didn’t know at all when I took this job,” Haynes told the Northwest Arkansas Democrat Gazette in 2020. “But my first experience with a museum was seeing someone who looked like me in charge. It wasn’t until I got more into the field that I realized how completely rare that was, that you would see a black woman in charge of the museum.”

Last year, Trevor Schoonmaker was named director at the Nasher following the retirement of senior curator and director Sarah Schroth. Schoonmaker, who has worked at the Nasher in various roles since 2006, has been noted for his role in bolstering the Nasher’s collection of works by historically underrepresented artists. At the Nasher, Haynes will join a curatorial team of five. 

Since November, the Nasher has been host to the bold Carrie Mae Weems public-health-meets-public art campaign, RESIST COVID / TAKE 6!, which is on display around Durham and on Duke’s campus. 

“I have known and been an admirer of the work that the Nasher does for the majority of my career,” Haynes said in the press release. “I am very excited by the opportunity to be part of this team that is doing really exciting work, and also wants to continue to do more, is ambitious, and is helping to chart what the future looks like.”

Follow Arts & Culture Editor Sarah Edwards on Twitter or send an email to sedwards@indyweek.com

Support independent local journalism. Join the INDY Press Club to help us keep fearless watchdog reporting and essential arts and culture coverage viable in the Triangle.