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High curator Labaco hired away by New York design museum

By Howard Pousner

Ronald Labaco, the High Museum of Art’s curator of decorative arts and design since 2007, is departing Atlanta to become part of the curatorial team at New York’s  Museum of Arts and Design.

It’s the second loss of a curator of impact  for the High in recent months. In August, photography curator Julian Cox left the High, where he had worked since 2005, to become the founding curator of photography for the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco and chief curator of its de Young Museum.

“I am thrilled to be joining such a talented and distinguished team, and to find ways to further push the envelope with them,” Labaco said in a statement released by the Museum of Arts and Design.

Like Cox, Labaco is credited with mounting strong exhibits while building his respective area of the High’s collection. Though he did not organize the recent touring show “European Design Since 1985: Shaping the New Century” that handsomely filled the High’s Anne Cox Chambers Wing, Labaco seemed to know each piece intimately while giving a preview tour. Indeed, several of the artists represented in that show have made their way into the High’s permanent collection.

Labaco is also the High’s curator on “Modern by Design,” one in a series of exhibit collaborations with New York’s Museum of Modern Art. Opening in June 2011, it will chronicle MoMA’s design collection history and the development of 20th century modernism, and include nearly 150 works (furniture, glass, ceramics, lighting, product and industrial design). The High plans a companion installation of pieces from its contemporary design collection, many acquired under Labaco’s watch.

Officials of the Museum of Design Atlanta cited strides the High has made with design, and a desire for greater synergy between the two institutions, as one of the reasons that MODA is in the process of moving from downtown to across Peachtree Street from the High in Midtown.

Unavailable for comment Tuesday, Labaco told that he wasn’t seeking to leave the High but couldn’t pass up the opportunity to work at a museum wholly dedicated to design.

When he started in 2007, Labaco was an independent curator who had worked as assistant curator of decorative arts at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. As is the case with many Southern museums, decorative arts has long been a strength at the High, but the collection was seen as a bit staid. Labaco said his charge was to bring it into the 21st century — or, as he phrased it, “firmly anchor the department in the present.”

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