Director and Curator Bios

Marcelle Polednik, Donna and Donald Baumgartner Director

Marcelle Polednik is the Donna and Donald Baumgartner Director of the Milwaukee Art Museum. Since assuming the directorship, in 2016, Polednik has refocused the artistic program on original scholarship and activation of the collection, and led efforts to broaden the reach and impact of art throughout the community. In 2020, under her leadership, the Museum introduced a new Strategic Direction that establishes four key pillars of activity: Art Relevant to Our Community, Robust Community Programming, Expansive Hospitality, and Impact Aligned with Financial Strength and Discipline. 

Polednik holds a PhD in art history from the Institute of Fine Arts at New York University and remains personally active in art historical scholarship through ongoing curatorial projects and publications; in 2019, for example, she curated Nares: Moves—the first retrospective of this significant contemporary artist. The Milwaukee Business Journal named her among the “40 Under 40” honorees in 2016 and one of the Milwaukee area’s “Power Brokers” in 2017. 

Prior to joining the Milwaukee Art Museum, Polednik was the director and chief curator at MOCA Jacksonville. Previously, she was the chief curator at the Monterey Museum of Art and an assistant curator at the Whitney Museum of American Art. 

Margaret Andera, Senior Curator of Contemporary Art

Margaret Andera has a history of over twenty years with the Milwaukee Art Museum. She began her tenure in 1989 as a curatorial intern, assigned to work on the newly acquired Michael and Julie Hall Collection of American Folk Art. She joined the staff full-time in 1993 as a curatorial assistant and advanced her expertise in contemporary art and the art of untrained artists.

Andera since has facilitated several important acquisitions of contemporary and self-taught work for the Collection, and has been instrumental in establishing the Milwaukee Art Museum as a leading American institution for modern self-taught material. Among the exhibitions she has curated are On Site: Andrea Zittel and Uncommon Folk: Traditions in American Art, as well as Vito Acconci: Acts of ArchitectureMagnetic North: The Landscapes of Tom UttechAccidental Genius: Art from the Anthony Petullo Collection, and Currents 36: Dirk Skreber, whose accompanying catalogues are but a few of Andera’s several publications.

Nikki Otten, Associate Curator of Prints and Drawings

Nikki Otten came to the Milwaukee Art Museum in 2018 from the Weisman Art Museum, at the University of Minnesota, in Minneapolis, where she was the E. Gerald and Lisa O’Brien Curatorial Fellow. She has curated a number of exhibitions, including Paper Mountains: Marsden Hartley’s Landscapes at the Weisman (2020 or 2021); The Romantic Spirit: Dark Dreams at the Chrysler Museum of Art, in Norfolk, Virginia (2017); Sem, Gigi & Caricature at the T. R. Anderson Gallery, at the University of Minnesota (2015); and A Means of Escape: European Posters from 1889 to 1930 at the Minneapolis Institute of Art (2011).

She served as a part-time research assistant in the Department of Prints and Drawings at the Milwaukee Art Museum for Degas to Picasso (2017) and Daring Technique: Goya and the Art of Etching (2018).

Otten holds a PhD and an MA in art history from the University of Minnesota. She also holds a BA in professional strategic communications from the same university.

Ariel Pate, Assistant Curator of Photography

Ariel Pate is the Assistant Curator of Photography at the Milwaukee Art Museum. In Milwaukee, she has curated Photographing Nature’s Cathedrals: Carleton E. Watkins, Eadweard Muybridge, and H. H. Bennett (2018) and Portrait of Milwaukee (2019), as well as rotations of collection works. She previously served as a curatorial assistant in the Department of Photography at the Art Institute of Chicago. There she spearheaded “The Alfred Stieglitz Collection: Photographs,” a website which presents conservation science data alongside art historical research on photographs Stieglitz collected and created. Pate received an MA in Curatorial Studies from the Staatliche Hochschule für Bildende Künste Städelschule and J. W. Goethe University, in Frankfurt, Germany, and has a BFA in art history from the Kansas City Art Institute.

Tanya Paul, Isabel and Alfred Bader Curator of European Art

Tanya Paul, the Isabel and Alfred Bader Curator of European Art, came to the Milwaukee Art Museum in 2013 from the Philbrook Museum of Art in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where she was the Ruth G. Hardman Curator of European Art. Paul has been working in museums for over twenty years, including stints at the J. Paul Getty Museum, The Sarah Campbell Blaffer Foundation at the Museum of Fine Arts Houston, and the University of Virginia Art Museum (now the Fralin Museum of Art). In Houston she completed work on the exhibition Elegance and Refinement: The Still Life Paintings of Willem van Aelst (2012), which was based on her 2008 dissertation on the artist, and after opening in Houston, traveled to the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC.

Beyond this major project she has organized countless exhibitions including: Monet and the Seine: Impressions of a River, as well as Scenes from the Low Countries: Dutch and Flemish Prints in the Age of RembrandtThe Sinuous Line: Jacques Callot and the Rebirth of Printmaking in Early Modern France; and Precious Possessions: The Art of Portrait Miniature. In Milwaukee, the exhibitions Tanya has organized include: From Rembrandt to Parmigianino: Old Masters from Private Collections; Dürer and the German Renaissance; Epic and Intimate: Seventeenth Century French Prints from the Hockerman Collection; Constable?: A Landscape Rediscovered as well as the major traveling exhibition Bouguereau & America. She was also responsible for the 2014 reinstallation of the entire European collection and was the coordinating curator for Of Heaven And Earth: 500 Years of Italian Painting from the Glasgow Museums, as well as A Modern Vision: European Masterworks from the Phillips Collection.

Paul received her MA and PhD in Art History from the University of Virginia.

The position of Isabel and Alfred Bader Curator of European Art is underwritten by Bader Philanthropies.

Catherine Sawinski, Assistant Curator of European Art

Catherine Sawinski has been the assistant curator of European art at the Milwaukee Art Museum since 2008. She joined the Museum staff in 2001 as a curatorial intern and was promoted to a curatorial assistant in 2003. The exhibitions she has curated include Intimate Images of Love and Loss: Portrait Miniatures (2010), Gods and Heroes: Classical Mythology in European Prints (2017), and The Art of Devotion: Illuminated Manuscripts from Local Collections (2019). She has also assisted with organizing several exhibitions, including Bouguereau & America (2019). Sawinski is charged with researching the Museum’s collection of ancient and European art before 1900 and regularly writes for the Museum’s blog, Under the Wings.

Sawinski has an MA in art history with two certificates in museum studies from the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee, and a BA in art history and classics from Lawrence University, in Appleton, Wisconsin.