PEM Appoints Sarah Kennel as Curator of Photography

PEM Appoints New Curator of Photography

Sarah Kennel of the National Gallery of Art Joins PEM's Curatorial Team

The Peabody Essex Museum (PEM) announces the appointment of Sarah Kennel, Ph.D., as its new curator of photography. Kennel joins PEM in September from the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., where during her nine-year curatorial tenure, she helped oversee the National Gallery’s permanent collection and managed an active exhibition program.

At PEM, Kennel will give the museum’s vast photography collection -- with its approximately 800,000 examples spanning the 19th-century through today -- a prominent focus within the museum and develop exhibitions that celebrate photography’s  global impact and reach.

"Sarah’s comprehensive knowledge of the artistic and technological history of the medium, combined with her appetite for the interdisciplinary and photography's dialogue with multiple art forms, will advance PEM's reputation as a top-flight cultural destination that provides fascinating, provocative experiences with photography,” said Lynda Roscoe Hartigan, PEM’s James B. and Mary Lou Hawkes Chief Curator.

Kennel holds a Ph.D. in art history from the University of California, Berkeley, where she completed her dissertation on the relationship between dance and the visual arts in early 20th-century Paris. Her interest in dance resurfaced at the National Gallery in 2013 when she curated an interdisciplinary exhibition on the Ballets Russes, in partnership with the Victoria and Albert Museum. The exhibition, Diaghilev and the Golden Age of the Ballets Russes, 1909-1929: When Art Danced with Music, brought together costumes, textiles, film, music and dance performances and earned Kennel an AICA-USA Award for Excellence in Art Criticism and Curatorial Achievement.

Following a pre-doctoral fellowship at the National Gallery’s Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts, Kennel joined the department of photography where she contributed to numerous shows, including André Kertész (2005), Irving Penn: The Platinum Prints (2005) and The Art of the American Snapshot (2007). She has also curated or co-curated Paris in Transition: Photographs from the National Gallery of Art (2007); In the Forest of Fontainebleau: Painters and Photographers from Corot to Monet (2008); In the Darkroom: Photographic Processes Before the Digital Age (2009) and The Serial Portrait: Photography and Identity in the Last One Hundred Years (2012).

In 2013, Kennel won first prize from the Association of Art Museum Curators for an essay on Charles Marville, a little-known French photographer who captured rapid and dramatic change in 19th-century Paris. The related exhibition, Charles Marville: Photographer of Paris, was organized by Kennel and traveled to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.

Kennel pursued her undergraduate degree at Princeton University and received both her graduate work at the University of California, Berkeley. A native of Los Angeles, she speaks French and Italian and has taught at the University of California, Princeton University and George Washington University.


PEM’s extensive collection of approximately 800,000 photographs represents nearly every kind of photographic format and process. It includes some of the world’s finest 19th- and early 20th-century photographs of Asia, as well as historic and modern American photography, especially related to New England, the maritime world and Native American life.

The collection began with the acquisition in 1840 of Vincent Chevalier's daguerreotype of Pont Neuf in Paris, made in 1839, the year of photography's invention. Since that time it has grown to encompass a large collection of early images, including works by pioneering photographers William Henry Fox Talbot, Southworth and Hawes and Antoine Claudet. The depth of the collection in certain areas is truly extraordinary and includes major archives such as those of Edwin Hale Lincoln, Lala Deen Dayal, and Samuel Chamberlain, the complete set of exhibition prints for Edward S. Curtis' North American Indian portfolio, a handsome group of modernist works by Walker Evans, more than 200 rare Civil War photographs by Matthew Brady, and a comprehensive holding of photographs of the Philippines and American Samoa. Recent acquisitions include vintage works by Diane Arbus, Nicholas Nixon and Milton Rogovin, as well as examples by contemporary photographers Valerie Belin, Thomas Joseph Cooper, Olivia Parker and Toshio Shibata.