Met curator wins the inaugural Vilcek Prize for Excellence

Met curator wins the inaugural Vilcek Prize for Excellence
Carmen Bambach, winner of the Vilcek Prize for Excellence. Courtesy the Vilcek Foundation.
Leading lights  -   Curators

Curator of Italian and Spanish drawings at the Metropolitan Museum of Art Carmen C. Bambach has been awarded the inaugural Vilcek Prize for Excellence. The Chilean-born curator will receive an unrestricted grant of $100,000 in recognition of her work. The Vilcek Prize for Excellence is a new prize created by the Vilcek Foundation to acknowledge and distinguish an immigrant or a US-born individual who has worked to highlight immigrants whose ‘contributions profoundly impact American society and world culture.’

Bambach was selected by Jan and Marica Vilcek, founders of the Vilcek Foundation, for her significant work in Renaissance studies and her leadership in curatorial practices. Her prowess in both areas assisted her in creating ‘Michelangelo: Divine Draftsman and Designer’, the Met’s blockbuster exhibition, which ran from 2017 through 2018 and attracted over 700,000 visitors. The exhibition brought together an extraordinary combination of drawings by the Old Master, many of which had never exhibited alongside one another. Bambach has also spearheaded exhibitions focusing on major artists including Bronzino, Correggio, and Parmigianino.

In addition to curating a number of fascinating exhibitions, Bambach has also spent 24 years working on Leonardo da Vinci Rediscovered – a 4-volume book masterpiece examining da Vinci’s life and work. The work navigates the Renaissance master’s life through his extensive body of drawings, paintings and manuscripts. Including 1,500 illustrations, Bambach’s book will be available this spring just in time to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the artist’s death. Bambach is also responsible for securing the loans of four drawings by da Vinci and a slew of works by artists who were influenced by his work to recognize the quincentennial anniversary.

The Vilceks created their foundation in 2006 as a means to celebrate immigrants and the contributions they have made to the arts and sciences. Recognizing a void in the award-sphere, Jan, a biomedical scientist, initially thought of distinguishing scientists. His wife, Marica was the driving force behind expanding their prize to the arts. Having worked at the Met for 32 years, Marica understands, first hand, what it’s like working within such a prestigious organization. ‘Eventually, I came to the conclusion that there are certain areas that were not covered, especially for curators, economists, and journalists,’ she told artnet News in an interview. She recalled that ‘[e]veryone in the world is aware of the Metropolitan Museum, but the visitors are not really thinking about who is responsible for it.’

Jan and Marica chose Bambach and it’s possible that given Marica’s past there was a sense of connection. Their choice was then approved by the foundation president and board as opposed to the jury system that selects other winners of other prizes distributed by the foundation.

‘Carmen is an incredible scholar,” said Marica of Bambach though she and her husband aimed to highlight her as an immigrant who has greatly contributed to the arts. ‘My husband and I are both immigrants,’ continued Marica. ‘When we came here, we had absolutely nothing. If you come as an immigrant, you are a zero and you really have to work hard to accomplish something.’ The inaugural winner of their newest prize represents, though, the invaluable gifts immigrants bestow upon the US during a particularly tumultuous political atmosphere.