On December 14, 2022, Denise Murrell, Associate Curator of 19th- and 20th-Century Art at The Metropolitan Museum of Art was awarded with the insignia of Chevalier of the Order of Arts and Letters by Darren Walker, President of the Ford Foundation, at the Cultural Services of the French Embassy in New York.
Deputy Cultural Counselor Judith Roze began by thanking Denise Murrell for her exceptional contribution to French arts and culture:
Ladies and gentlemen,
I am Judith Roze, Deputy Cultural Counselor of the French Embassy, and it is my special pleasure to welcome you this evening as we award Denise Murrell, Chevalier dans l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, recognizing her achievements as a curator and educator, and her promotion of a robust artistic and creative dialogue between the US and France.
Denise, as we gather to recognize your great accomplishments in the arts and culture, allow me to say a few short words about your landmark exhibition, which captivated, intrigued, and inspired audiences across the United States and France: Posing Modernity: The Black Model from Manet and Matisse to Today, which first opened at Columbia University’s Wallach Art Gallery before its expansion and exhibition at the Musee d’Orsay in Paris as Le Modèle Noir de Géricault à Matisse, and its subsequent tour as Le Modèle Noir de Géricault à Picasso at the Mémorial ACTe in Guadeloupe. This exhibition provided a powerful investigation into representations of the Black female figure in art, and the Black model’s foundational contribution to the development of modern art. It was certainly with the impact of this exhibition and your research in mind that Laurence des Cars, President of the Louvre and former President of the Musee d’Orsay, nominated you for this honor. It is a privilege for us to host the ceremony marking this occasion.
We also wish to congratulate you on your appointment as the first Merryl H. and James S. Tisch Curator at Large, within the Office of the Director at the MET this past summer; this prestigious role exemplifies your talent for collaboration across curatorial departments and for the exploration of subjects that transcend geographical, chronological, and thematic boundaries. We look forward to your future work as you seek to explore transatlantic modernism and the Harlem Renaissance. Finally, I would like to welcome your distinguished colleagues, family and friends who join us tonight in applauding your dedication to the future of your field.
We are in fact, doubly honored this evening, as we are joined, not only by one, but by two great friends of France. Denise, as we celebrate your significant contributions to furthering the arts and culture in our respective countries, it seems only fitting that Darren Walker, President of the Ford Foundation, will be bestowing you with this medal tonight. A few months ago, Ambassadeur Philippe Etienne and our dear friend Laurence des Cars, awarded him with the insignia of Commandeur dans l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, the order’s highest rank. Through this distinction, France wanted to acknowledge both his vision to advance social justice and his unparalleled accomplishments spanning the arts and culture as well as education and sustainable development. Here at Villa Albertine, we are proud to have partnered with the Ford Foundation to provide African American artists with greater visibility on a global stage, as well as creators from across the African continent with opportunities to come to the United States.
Dear Denise and Darren, your own collaboration has yielded such incredible results, from Denise’s groundbreaking work as a Ford Foundation Postdoctoral Research Scholar to Darren’s support of Le Modèle Noir’s ambitious path, from Columbia to the Musée d’Orsay. It is our great honor to have you both among the members of l’Ordre des Arts et Lettres.
Denise Murrell, PhD, joined The Met in January 2020. She was previously the curator of the exhibition Posing Modernity: The Black Model from Manet and Matisse to Today (October 2018–February 2019) at Columbia University’s Wallach Art Gallery while serving as the Wallach’s Ford Foundation Postdoctoral Research Scholar (2014–19). She was a co-curator of the exhibition’s expansion at the Musée d’Orsay, Paris, as Le Modèle Noir de Géricault à Matisse (March–July 2019) and a guest lecturer for its final tour as Le Modèle Noir de Géricault à Picasso at the Memorial ACTe, Pointe-à-Pitre, Guadeloupe (September–December 2019).
Murrell is the author of the Posing Modernity exhibition catalogue (Yale University Press and The Wallach Art Gallery, 2018), which was based on her 2014 art history PhD dissertation at Columbia University in New York. The catalogue received College Art Association and Dedalus Foundation book awards. She was an essayist for the Orsay Le Modèle Noir catalogue. Murrell has taught art history at Columbia University in New York and in Paris and has given public lectures and published as a guest essayist for numerous museums and universities.
Selected recent publications include “Suzanne Valadon’s Venus Noir: A Conversation” in Suzanne Valadon: Model, Painter, Rebel, The Barnes Foundation, 2021; “Bazille, Degas and Modern Black Paris” in The Wiley Blackwell Companion to Impressionism, edited by André Dombrowski, winter 2021/22; and “The Mirror of History: Black Artists as Antiracist Activists” in A Time of Crisis, The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, November 2020.
Murrell is the inaugural visiting research fellow (2022–24) at the Marder Center for Matisse Studies at the Baltimore Museum of Art. She held a Mellon pre-doctoral curatorial research fellowship at Princeton University Art Museum (2012–13), where she developed collection installations in relation to the exhibition The African Presence in Renaissance Europe and initiated the online resource “The Art of Africa and Its Diasporas.” She was a contract gallery lecturer and Timeline of Art History essayist at The Met from 2004 to 2011.
Her professional and civic affiliations include the Obama Presidential Portrait Commission Committee at the Harvard Club of Greater New York; the National Advisory Board of the Ackland Art Museum at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; the External Advisory Committee for the Spelman College/Atlanta University art history degree program; Le Comité scientifique de l’Institut national d’histoire de l’art (INHA), Paris, Carte Blanche 2021: L’Art antillais; and the Global Africa Advisory Committee, Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto.
Murrell previously received an MBA from Harvard Business School and a BS from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.