13 Oct IN MEMORIAM: Jennifer Complo McNutt, 1957-2021
By Elisa G. Phelps, vice president and chief curatorial officer
Jennifer Complo McNutt, 1957-2021
As we mourn the passing of Jennifer Complo McNutt, curator of contemporary art, we also celebrate her many accomplishments during an incredible 30-year tenure at the Eiteljorg Museum. During that time, Jennifer curated more than 50 exhibits and contributed to numerous publications. The last exhibit Jennifer worked on to completion was Powerful Women: Contemporary Art from the Eiteljorg Collection, which highlights the work of women artists. She did not feel one exhibit was enough to do justice to the subject, so she created two different versions. The first rotation focused exclusively on Native artists, while the second rotation (on view through Jan. 18, 2022) features a diverse group of women artists.
Jennifer was herself a powerful woman. Sometimes her power was behind the scenes, as she always wanted the art and artists to be front and center. At other times, Jennifer’s power manifested in sheer force of will, occasionally fierce, sometimes contrary, but always passionate about contemporary art and the artists who create it.
That passion was evident in Jennifer’s gallery tours and “Curator’s Choice” talks. So was her formal training as an artist, with a bachelor of fine arts degree from Indiana University, Bloomington, and a master of fine arts degree (painting) from the Tyler School of Art at Temple University in Philadelphia. Her curatorial practice was informed by that training, with her artist’s eye tuned to the nuances of technique, line, color, form, texture and composition. Her observations on things as simple as the thickness of a paint stroke added deeper levels of meaning to familiar works of art.
Since the beginning of the biennial Eiteljorg Contemporary Art Fellowship in 1999, Jennifer was the power behind the Fellowship, which highlights the work of contemporary Native artists. She cultivated long-term relationships with the artist Fellows, and those efforts continue to benefit the museum. She wanted visitors to understand that Native art is on a continuum through time and that contemporary Native art is both authentically Native and an integral part of the contemporary art canon. Jennifer was an integral part of the Eiteljorg Museum and the contemporary art community, and her passion, knowledge and exuberant spirit will be much missed.
Contributions made in her memory will support the newly established Jennifer Complo McNutt fund for the acquisition of Native American contemporary fine art. A full obituary is at this link: https://bit.ly/3haqUDR
Eiteljorg curator of contemporary art Jennifer Complo McNutt curated many exhibitions during her 30 years at the museum, including the Fellowship show Native Art Now! that ran Nov. 11, 2017-Jan. 28, 2018.
Editor’s note: This article appeared in the October 2021 issue of Storyteller magazine.