Ellen Avril is the current Curator of Asian Art, only the second person to hold this important position. Professor Emeritus Martie Young became the first curator in 1963, overseeing the care and development of the Museum’s Asian collection for more than thirty-five years.


Promoting Educational Excellence

The Asian art collection represents one of the great strengths of the Johnson Museum. The Museum began to collect Asian art in the 1950s; today the collection contains more than 8,000 works, most acquired through the generosity of Cornell alumni, faculty, and friends. The curator oversees the continued growth and scholarly direction of the collection, which is carefully developed to support the educational goals of Cornell University and to represent the scope of art created by the diverse populations of the world’s largest continent. In 2011, the fifth-floor Asian galleries were entirely renovated and reinstalled—for the first time since 1973—with more than 400 objects on view that are newly interpreted through brochures, cell phone tours, and specialized online resources. The new visible storage gallery provides access to an additional 300 works of Asian art for all audiences.

Supporting Humanities and Fine Arts

The Curator of Asian Art provides essential research guidance, expertise, and access to the collection for faculty in the University’s renowned East Asia Program, South Asia Program, and Southeast Asia Program. In partnership with faculty from many disciplines, the Curator co-teaches semester-long courses, regularly works with classes who incorporate Asian art in their curriculum, and develops a vibrant temporary exhibition program. Through scholarly research, the Curator is responsible for cataloguing, preserving, and interpreting collection objects and spearheading collections-based installations. The Curator works closely with donors, experts, and faculty peers to build a dynamic and constantly evolving collection with an emphasis on quality. In addition, the Curator hires and mentors undergraduate and post-baccalaureate curatorial interns, guiding their pre-professional experience in the field of Asian art from a variety of disciplinary interests. The Curator develops relationships with a broad academic community through membership in national and international art organizations and actively seeks out collaborative partnerships with other museum curators and scholars to advance the Museum’s and the University’s standing and reputation in the field of Asian art.

Enabling Service Learning and Public Engagement

The rising visibility of Asia in the global marketplace means increased career opportunities for Cornell students in law, business, government, and journalism, as well as in the field of visual arts. The Curator of Asian Art works with faculty to incorporate this broad global perspective by organizing in-house and traveling exhibitions accompanied by public lectures, special tours, and symposia. For an off-campus audience, the Curator works with community organizations with a special interest in Asian art and hosts programs for the larger community, partnering closely with the Museum’s education office to develop K-12 curriculum-based tours and classes. The Curator travels to galleries, dealers, and international art fairs, often leading tours for Cornell alumni and Johnson Museum supporters. An important part of the public engagement aspect is the Museum’s commitment to remaining free and accessible to all.