The Barnes Foundation has selected Thomas Collins, head of the resurgent Pérez Art Museum in Miami, to be its new chief executive and president, the museum announced Wednesday.
A native of the Philadelphia area, Collins, 46, will assume the post in March at an institution that is now in its third year on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway.
He succeeds Derek Gillman, who guided the Barnes from 2006 to 2013, when the Barnes successfully, if sometimes contentiously, moved its spectacular collection of impressionist and early modernist art from its long-time home in Merion to in Philadelphia. The new Barnes opened in May 2012.
Gillman resigned a year ago and has been teaching at in the museum leadership program at Drexel University. But on Tuesday, Christie's New York announced that he is now the auction house's chairman of impressionist and modern art, a new position.
Collins joined what was then the Miami Art Museum in 2010 and guided it through construction of a widely admired new home designed by Swiss architecture firm Herzog and de Meuron, which opened in December 2013.
Collins also worked at reimagining the role of the museum within the increasingly diverse Miami-Dade County community. The Pérez Art Museum Miami, renamed after a principle donor, is the energetic result.
Collins said his five years in Miami represent "a very good run." But he could not resist the tug of the Barnes, whose internationally known collection Renoirs, Matisses, Picassos, Cezannes, and countless other impressionist and early modern masters "represents more of my historical-academic interest."
Before taking over in Miami, where the focus is on contemporary art, Collins had been director of the Neuberger Museum of Art, which is connected with Purchase College of the State University of New York.
Collins grew up in Media, Delaware County, and graduated from Swarthmore College in 1988. He has a masters in art history from Northwestern University.
He cut his teeth on the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Barnes collection. "The Barnes holds a special place," he said, recalling almost weekly visits to the art museum and the Barnes when he was a student.
Joseph Neubauer, chair of the Barnes trustees and head of the search committee, extolled Collins' "breadth of knowledge in education and art history.
"His track record in museum leadership, community outreach, and development makes him the right choice to lead the Barnes Foundation at this time," Neubauer said in a statement.
In an interview, he said Collins "possesses all the attributes that we wanted."
"He's a leader. He's been wonderful places. He works with the community. He works with education in the community. He possesses passion and commitment."
Neubauer said the Barnes is in "very good shape." The endowment is growing, the institution ended last year with a budget surplus and may well do the same this year. Visitors since the opening have topped the 800,000 mark. A special exhibition program has been put in place, currently featuring the work of William Glackens, long-time friend of Dr. Albert Barnes, the foundation's founder.
"We're now maturing," Neubauer said. "We're learning more about the audience." And with that comes recognition of the need to do "more outreach" and more educational work.
Collins said he was extremely interested in developing the educational program offered by the Barnes, including new ways to tease out previously ignored stories embedded within the collection.
"Building on the legacy of Dr. Barnes and his associate Violette de Mazia," Collins said he sees great opportunity in bolstering the "visual literacy" of visitors. He wants to "give visitors the tools to unpack the ideas" within the collection.
That will mean rethinking the special exhibition programs, making them more dynamic, and exploring various digital strategies - from apps to the institution's online presence. Talks, lectures, performances - all provide opportunities to bring out stories veiled within the collection.
"The next big hump is how do we build on Dr. Barnes' legacy in new ways," he said.
Collins salary was not announced, but his predecessor, Gillman, made $384,203, according to the Barnes' 2012 tax return. Collins made $263,080, according to the 2013 Pérez tax return.