40 Prominent People | Peter Hassrick

Peter Hassrick
Former Museum Director • Denver, CO

Peter Hassrick

Distinction: Hassrick’s work as the former director of the Buffalo Bill Historical Center and the Denver Art Museum’s Petrie Institute of Western American Art has elevated western art’s reputation in the world.
What has been the biggest change you’ve seen in the art world over the years? American art in general has become far more credible. The levels of scholarship have increased; museums have American art collections; major exhibitions and publications have grown tenfold.
What has been the biggest change you’ve seen in the western art world? If American art was the stepchild of art history, then western art was its bastard cousin. Now western art is a credible part of the American art historical canon.
What are you most proud of as the former director of the Buffalo Bill Historical Center? The historical center had been a local or regional institution. I tried to beef it up to not just be a local house of curiosities. That was achieved through putting on major exhibitions, hiring professional experts in curatorial posts, and organizing national symposia, among other things.
What are you most proud of as the former director of the Petrie Institute? It wasn’t until 2000 that a western department was actually established at the museum. I am proudest of the fact that we took a nascent institution and got it endowed as a curatorial department and began to invest in programs, exhibitions, symposia, and scholarly publications.
How do you think these institutions have contributed to appreciation of western art? Our exhibitions and publications have expanded the recognition and understanding of western art. We brought the discipline up from being considered a province of yokels. We gave the public a valid understanding of why the West matters culturally.
Are you still involved with the center and the museum? At Buffalo Bill I am continuing work on a catalog raisonné on Frederic Remington that was published in 1996. At the Denver Art Museum I am helping curate an exhibition on Walter Ufer and E. Martin Hennings.
How do you think Southwest Art has contributed to an appreciation of western art? Southwest Art has provided a forum for art historians to write about major figures in historical art. And it also has promoted living artists of the West, keeping the discipline alive.

Featured in “40 Prominent People” in May 2011.

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