Julie Pierotti is the super-sweet, youthful, bright and talented art historian who is bringing a fresh perspective to her work as Associate Curator at the Dixon. In addition to all of her professional achievements, this Masters of Arts alumni from Vanderbilt can soon add mother to her list of accomplishments.
Have you always has a passion for art? Where and when did this begin?
I really think I always have been curious about art. I remember going to see the Wonders exhibitions as a child and being really interested in them, even at a young age. I’ve also always found history interesting, so it was only natural that art history would appeal to me. I finally took an art history class my senior year at St. Agnes and fell in love. Plus, in college, all of my textbooks were filled with pictures! Much more interesting than any boring old science book.
When did you know what you wanted to do in your career?
When I was in graduate school, I volunteered in the exhibitions department at the Frist in Nashville. It was such an exciting experience, even the mundane aspects of it, that it really solidified my interest in museum work.
What challenges do arts organizations like the Dixon face when striving to stay relevant across all age groups and socioeconomic backgrounds?
It can be a huge challenge to find shows that appeal to visitors of all ages, but we work to keep a balanced exhibition calendar where, in any given year, there is something for everyone. For example, we started 2011 with a show on Joe Jones, a radical Communist painter from the 1930s, then went onto our blockbuster Impressionist exhibition, Jean-Louis Forain: La Comédie Parisienne, and then closed the year with the work of Brian Selznick, a Caldecott-medal winning children’s book illustrator. In addition, the Dixon’s many education programs reach art lovers of all ages, and many of our children’s education programs offer scholarships to students who want to participate, but don’t have the means to pay the program fees. Looking forward, we’re proud to be presenting Memphis Vive: Latina/o Art in the Mid-South later this year (July 8 – September 16), which will feature the incredibly vibrant work coming out of Memphis’ Hispanic community.
Do you find the Memphis community as a whole very responsive to the art world?
Memphis has one of the United States’ most active arts communities! I really consider Memphis the arts capital of the South, not just the visual arts, but also music, cultural history, and cuisine. I think it’s because of all of the city’s culture that Memphians in general are interested in art. In fact, I think it was last year that Memphis was ranked as one of the top ten cities in the world for young artists. There are an incredible number of talented artists working here, and a lot of that talent stems from the great art programs at Memphis College of Art, Rhodes College, and the University of Memphis. The Dixon is proud to contribute to Memphis’ cultural identity, through the prestige of our permanent collection and through the significance of the exhibitions we originate. For the past three years, we’ve been featuring local contemporary art in our Mallory and Wurtzburger Galleries. These shows have proved hugely successful in bringing a more contemporary crowd to the Dixon, and it really is our honor to give Memphis artists the opportunity to have their work displayed in a museum setting. People are constantly telling me how cool it is that the Dixon is paying attention to the art of our own time and place.
How have you seen your exhibitions impact the many audiences you have touched?
It is so gratifying when people tell me how much they enjoyed a particular exhibition or share a special memory they have of the Dixon. But on a broader level, we have seen our attendance numbers increase greatly in the past few years, which lets me know that more people are taking the time to come visit the museum and enjoy all we have to offer, both in the galleries and in the gardens. Our education programs are reaching more people every year, from toddlers to Alzheimer’s patients, and it’s so exciting to know that we’re helping all of them appreciate art and nature on a more personal level.
What inspires you?
I am constantly inspired by the incredible beauty I encounter each and every day at the Dixon. I cannot emphasize enough how energizing and inspiring it is to work at a place like the Dixon where, from the moment I drive on to the property, I am surrounded by the beauty of the Dixon’s incredible gardens and of course in our permanent collection. Also, the travel I’ve been able to do in the past few years (both through the Dixon and for leisure with my husband) has been such an inspiration! From Rome to Taipei to Paris and beyond, I have learned so much about art and about myself through these trips. There is no substitute for viewing art in person!
What has been one of your most favorite exhibitions to curate and why?
Working on the Jean-Louis Forain retrospective (Jean-Louis Forain: La Comédie parisienne) last year was such an incredible experience! It was my first time to be a part of an international loan exhibition, which was a unique and exciting challenge, and I learned so much! With a retrospective, you’re able to tell the entire story of one artist’s career, so I was able to become intimately familiar with Forain and his work. I also got to know the Forain family through this exhibition, and still keep in touch with them today. Getting to travel to Paris twice during the development of the show was not so bad either!
Tell our readers about your current exhibition at the Dixon.
I literally can’t wait for the opening of Modern Dialect: American Paintings from the John and Susan Horseman Collection! This exhibition is a follow-up to a show we did back in 2009 called Regional Dialect. Modern Dialect features American paintings from the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s, and shows how American artists increasingly turned to modernist techniques to work out the changes they were experiencing around them, especially throughout the Great Depression and World War II. It’s a show that a lot of people can relate to on a lot of levels. The Horseman collection features really great examples by some of the most influential American artists of the early 20th century, including John Steuart Curry, Reginald Marsh, Yasuo Kuniyoshi, Charles Sheeler, Charles Burchfield, and Marsden Hartley. I am so proud of this show and the scholarship we’re presenting through the installation accompanying catalogue! We will also be traveling this show to five other venues around the country, which we’re very excited about. Modern Dialect will be open to the public beginning May 6. The catalogue will be on sale in the Dixon’s museum store.
What is it like being behind the scenes when a show like this goes up?
There is so much that goes into any given exhibition at the Dixon–usually years of preparation and research, and then a few intense weeks of installation. I have worked on Modern Dialect for about two years now, and seeing it come to life, both in the catalogue I authored and in the exhibition itself, has been an incredibly gratifying experience. It couldn’t happen without all of the incredible people I work with at the Dixon—everyone really works together to help make these shows happen.
What are your hobbies outside of work and how do you unwind?
If reading can be considered a hobby, I love to read. I also have a big Italian family that takes up a lot of my time (in a good way!) outside of work. I unwind almost every day by going for walks in my neighborhood, sometimes long ones, but even 15 minutes can do wonders for your state of mind.
Toddlers and Tiaras and Chick Fil-A spicy chicken biscuits.
Favorite Memphis attractions:
Beside the Dixon, I think the Ornamental Metal Museum is one of the most unique spots in Memphis. The Grizzlies have become such a wonderful attraction to Memphis, and I love going to Redbirds games at Auto Zone Park.
Do you have any secret talents?
I’m really guilty of being a good eavesdropper.
What one word best describes you?
I will be having a baby in July, so I’m not too up on the trends in summer clothing since I can’t fit into any of them! But I’m hoping to get some pastel cat-eye sunglasses when I can find the perfect pair. My other must haves for the spring and summer are ice water, sunscreen, and tons of Aveda hairspray to fight the humidity!
Assuming you ever have a spare moment to read, what books can be found on your bedside table?
Currently, Bringing up Bébé and the latest issue of Vogue.
What are three things you can’t live without (excluding friends, family and God):
Fine art, my 3 year-old Papillon Lizzie, and (superficially) DiorShow Unlimited mascara.