NEW YORK — Peggy Fogelman, a seasoned museum professional with New England roots, was named director of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum on Tuesday, the first change of leadership in more than a quarter-century.
Fogelman, who currently serves as the director of collections at New York’s Morgan Library & Museum, has broad experience on both the curatorial and educational sides of museums — knowledge that could well position her to expand the Gardner’s audience and further its multidisciplinary programming.
“Any work of art — no matter how great or magnificent — does not have meaning unless encountered by a seeing eye, a knowing mind, and a feeling heart,” said Fogelman, paraphrasing the late Stanford University arts educator Elliot Eisner. “I think that’s the job of museums: to create the conditions for that to happen, and for people — through that — to learn about themselves.”
Fogelman, 54, will replace longtime Gardner Museum director Anne Hawley, whose tenure ends at the end of the year. Fogelman formally takes her post in January.
At the Morgan — an institution that, like the Gardner, originated as a private collection — Fogelman oversees the museum’s curatorial departments, along with conservation, registration, and an exhibition program that can include as many as 20 shows per year. She recently served a yearlong stint as the museum’s acting director while the Morgan searched for a new leader. The Gardner, however, will be her first permanent directorship at a major museum.
During a wide-ranging interview in Manhattan, Fogelman said becoming the director of a museum was never her primary career objective.
“I was not interested in becoming a director for the sake of being a director,” she said. But the Gardner proved irresistible: “I kind of fell in love with the museum. It was a dance of seduction, and I was completely won over.”
Her appointment was the result of an eight-month search.
“She comes to us as young, energetic, passionate about this work, and passionate about the Gardner,” said museum trustee Barbara Hostetter, who chaired the search committee.
Hostetter said the search committee chose Fogelman unanimously . “She’s interested in interpretation and new ways of interpretation. She’s very creative,” Hostetter said. “She understands the need to digitize, and digital interpretation. She understands audiences, and the need to build audience and diverse audiences, and she understands multidisciplinary exhibition work, which I think the Gardner is ideally positioned to do.”
Fogelman is in many ways inheriting a museum in its prime. Hawley capped her career with a $180 million capital campaign, which added $50 million to the museum’s endowment and helped finance its 2012 expansion, designed by famed architect Renzo Piano. The museum’s curators now enjoy endowed positions, and the Gardner recently embarked on a costly new roofing project.
“We all recognize that this next stage is going to involve living up to the quality of the new building and the strength of the institution,” said Steve Kidder, president of the board of trustees. “We think Peggy is the perfect person to take us to the next level. She immediately demonstrated this passion for an interdisciplinary approach that we really think is the future of the Gardner.”
Fogelman said she was inspired by the legacy of Isabella Stewart Gardner and praised the work of Hawley, who she said had made the museum more dynamic and introduced new modes for the public to interact with the museum.
“I want to continue that and perhaps be even more expansive — to continue to be really dynamic and responsive to the idea that people come to museums seeking both a cultural and a social experience,” Fogelman said. She added that she hoped to expand the Gardner’s use of technology, literature, music, and architecture to interpret the collection.
“There are so many different levels on which to interpret and feel a work of art, and I think if you’re firing on all cylinders there’s a way in for everyone,” she said.
Outgoing director Hawley said Fogelman’s selection was a “home run” for the museum, noting that the new director came highly recommended and that Fogelman’s experience has readied her for the position.
Raised in Connecticut, Fogelman came to art early. The daughter of an art-collecting physician, she recalled accompanying her father on buying trips to artists’ studios, where they would set her up with her own paints and canvas.
The new director, whose longtime partner, John D. Childs, is the head of conservation at the National September 11 Memorial & Museum in New York, spent the first two decades of her career at the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles working as a sculpture curator and later transitioning to assistant director for education and interpretation. She went on to the Peabody Essex Museum, where she served as director of education and interpretation, and New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, where she was named chairman of education.
William Griswold, director and president of the Cleveland Museum of Art, worked with Fogelman at the Getty and later, while director of the Morgan, brought her on as the museum’s first director of collections.
“It is not easy to inhabit a new role in senior administration, and she seamlessly assumed responsibility for the museum’s exhibition programs, she was front line on acquisitions and conservation,” said Griswold, who called Fogelman “one of the smartest people I know.” “She exercised leadership from the outset.”
Thomas Campbell, director and chief executive of the Met, said Fogelman arrived at the museum during a time of transition, restructuring the Met’s education department while forging relationships between that department and curators.
“As a former curator, she’s deeply imbued with the values of the curatorial vision, while at the same time having an eye toward the audience and the ways of engaging audiences with scholarship and curatorial work,” he said. “She brought it all through with determination, tact, and deep thought.”
Fogelman said she had been briefed on the museum’s notorious 1990 art theft and was optimistic the works would be returned. “It is something that we all care deeply about,” she said. “It’s a testament to the really treasured role that the Gardner plays, both in Boston and the world community of museums, that people are still very engaged on this issue.”
She was also excited by the prospect of collaborating with other Boston-area cultural organizations: “We’re all part of the cultural fabric of Boston. Each institution is unique and has unique strengths, but that doesn’t mean we can’t work together to the benefit of all cultural institutions in Boston.”