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A New Menil? Reflecting on Art, Space, and Legacy as Curator of Collections

Portrait of William Ansah Sessarakoo, son of Eno Baisie Kurentsi

Gabriel Mathias, Portrait of William Ansah Sessarakoo, son of Eno Baisie Kurentsi (John Currantee) of Anomabu (Ghana), 1749. Oil on canvas; 26 1/4 × 21 7/8 in. (66.7 × 55.6 cm). The Menil Collection. Photograph by Hickey-Robertson. 

After being ‘off view’ for several months, the Menil Collection’s Renzo Piano building reopens on September 22 with entirely new gallery layouts and installations of artworks consisting exclusively of the permanent collection and promised gifts. Paul R. Davis addresses the collaborative curatorial and art historical process of working with the Menil’s permanent collection of nearly 17,000 objects, spanning the prehistoric to the present day, and generating new gallery displays for the arts of Africa, the Pacific Islands, the Americas, and ancient to early modern Europe. 


Paul R. Davis joined the Menil in 2014 as Curator of Collections and oversees the Menil’s permanent collection of art from Africa, the Pacific Islands, the Americas, the ancient world, and medieval to early modern Europe. Before coming to the Menil, he was an Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow in the Centre for the Creative Arts of Africa at the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa. His research focuses on the visual arts and cultures of French-speaking West Africa between the 18th and 21st century. His research on Malian visual art during colonial and post-independence eras has been published in Africa in Europe: Studies in Transnational Practice in the Long Twentieth Century (University of Liverpool) and Critical Interventions: Journal of African Art History and Visual Culture. His exhibition projects include Victor Forestier Sow: A Pioneer Malian Painter (2014), Affecting Presence and the Pursuit of Delicious Experiences (2015), and ReCollecting Dogon (2017).