Art Review

The Petrie Institute of Western American Art lands a new curator

There have been some big changes recently at the Denver Art Museum's Petrie Institute of Western American Art. Last month, longtime associate curator Ann Daley stepped down after more than twenty years (Artbeat, October 9). And now, Petrie director Peter Hassrick (pictured) has announced his retirement effective next April. Hassrick had taken the job three years ago, coming out of an earlier retirement to do so. For decades, he had been the director of the Buffalo Bill Historical Center in Cody, Wyoming. (With these departures, only Petrie senior scholar Joan Carpenter Troccoli remains.)

Hassrick came to know DAM director Lewis Sharp in the '80s, when New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art mounted an important retrospective of the work of Frederic Remington. The Buffalo Bill has major holdings of Remington's pieces, and Sharp was curator of the American Wing at the Met at the time. He recognized the gaps in the DAM's collection of Western material and sought to partly correct that through Hassrick.

The DAM had a love/hate relationship with our Western heritage, and the result was a motley assortment of relevant material at the museum. That started to change with the acquisition in 2001 of the Harmsen Collection, an enormous treasure trove of Western art assembled by Dorothy and William Harmsen, who owned Jolly Rancher. It was in response to this gift that the DAM established the institute, renamed the Petrie in 2007 in recognition of a multimillion-dollar gift from Tom Petrie, who provided an endowment.

Hassrick will be succeeded by Thomas Smith, a young curator from the Tucson Museum of Art who joins the DAM this month. Smith will work with Hassrick on the reinstallation of the seventh floor of the Gio Ponti wing, to be unveiled this February.

Hassrick raised over $6 million during his short tenure and leaves some big shoes to fill, but the DAM is confident that Smith is up to the job.

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Michael Paglia is an art historian and writer whose columns have appeared in Westword since 1995; his essays on the visual arts have also been published in national periodicals including Art News, Architecture, Art Ltd., Modernism, Art & Auction and Sculpture Magazine. He taught art history at the University of Colorado Denver.
Contact: Michael Paglia