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Meet Jennifer Price, the Woman Behind Kimbell Art Museum's Non-European Collection

Jennifer Price always knew curating is what she is supposed to do.EXPAND
Jennifer Price always knew curating is what she is supposed to do.
Robert LaPrelle

A peek into the windowless office of Jennifer Price offers an extraordinary view of the world.

Price brought many of the postcards that line the walls with her 25 years ago, she says, when she moved from New York to become Asian and non-Western art curator for the Kimbell Art Museum.

Among her collection are cards people have sent her, posters and things that inspire her, she says. There’s stuff from her travels, and near birthday cards and photos of her daughter, Zoe, there’s a frumpy-faced Daruma image.

“He’s kind of like an old, very wise monk who depicts longevity and wisdom,” she says of the Buddhist with bushy eyebrows.

Price knew she wanted to be a museum curator in her sophomore year of college, she says. It sort of came naturally since her father was a New York theater designer, her parents took her to museums and galleries, and her godfather was a museum director.

While attending New York University’s Institute of Fine Arts, Price landed an internship in the Asian art department of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. She later met former Kimbell director Ted Pillsbury, who offered her a job. That was in 1993, and she’s been a Texan ever since.

“I cover everything non-European at the Kimbell,” she says. “That represents about half the collection.”

It’s not that Price doesn’t know about European art — she studied that for nearly four years before homing in on Asian studies. Non-European art, she says, deals more with three-dimensional artifacts as opposed to paintings flatly displayed upon a wall.

Along with Asian art, Price also curates ancient African and Oceanic art that was made by natives of Australia and the Pacific Islands.

Some days, the 56-year-old can be found working on an upcoming exhibit or talking with students. Other times, she may be inundated with emails and queries. The day we talked, she had done a morning meditation podcast, and the week before, she spoke with a women’s club while promoting the museum’s Lands of Asia exhibit.

Price says she wanted people to experience the wow factor while viewing that display’s colorful textile collection.

She also loves sharing what she knows with others, she says, and will soon speak at an Asian art curator’s conference about a Japanese Buddha statue that has had a CT scan.

On occasion, Price attends art fairs in search of acquisitions and leads patron tours to other countries.

“When we lend works of art from our collection, somebody has to travel with it,” she says, which continues until the piece arrives safely at its destination and is put on a wall or pedestal. The piece has to be picked up as well.

Along with her European travels, Price has toured China, Japan, Vietnam, Cambodia, Turkey, India, Cuba and Peru. As a graduate student, she spent six months backpacking through China, Nepal, Burma, Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia.

Price says she spends a lot of her weekend these days “sort of chauffeuring my 15-year-old daughter around until she learns to drive.”

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Price and her husband, Steven, an artist who works at the Amon Carter Museum, live in a 1930s bungalow decorated with an eclectic mix of local, contemporary art and things she’s picked up during her travels.

“If you come into our house,” she says, “it’s sort of this combo of East meets Texas.”

Price is gearing up for the Kimbell’s next special exhibit, Balenciaga in Black, which she says will feature haute couture fashions from Spanish designer Cristobal Balenciaga. She admits it will be a learning curve.

Still, “I love working on exhibitions,” she says. “When I finish with an exhibition, and it opens, that’s really a great sense of satisfaction, that I did it.”

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