The Minneapolis Institute of Arts will announce today that it has hired a German-born sculpture expert from Sotheby's, London, to head its department of decorative arts and sculpture. Eike Schmidt (pronounced Ike-y) will chair one of the largest departments, overseeing 18,000 objects (of the museum's 80,000 total) and a staff of four curators.

"We interviewed five candidates, and he was clearly the top," said museum director Kaywin Feldman, who led the nine-month international search. This is the fifth curatorial post Feldman has filled since her arrival in January 2008, when many of the museum's senior positions were vacant. Intent on raising the museum's international profile, she has wooed curators from top institutions worldwide, including the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston and the Whitney Museum in New York.

The sculpture post had been vacant for nearly two years, since Christopher Monkhouse moved to the Art Institute of Chicago in 2007.

Schmidt, 41, earned the nickname "Eike-pedia" thanks to his near-photographic memory while at the Getty Museum in Los Angeles, where he was associate curator from 2006 to 2008. Before that, he held curatorial research posts at the National Gallery of Art in Washington and worked at cultural institutions in Florence and Bologna, Italy. He earned his 2007 doctorate in Italian Renaissance and Baroque sculpture from Ruprecht-Karls University in Germany.

"Almost all American museums are scaling down now, but the MIA isn't, and the important thing in an economy like this is not to lose sight of long-term goals," Schmidt said in Minneapolis last week. Now is a good time to add to the museum's sculpture collection because important things can be had "for a very reasonable price."

Minnesota's air and the Twin Cities' reputation as a theater center added to the job's appeal, he said. He moved from Los Angeles to London last year in part because "London is the best place in the world for theater, but according to people I've spoken with, and Internet reviews, Minneapolis is close," he said. "Moreover, you have fresh air here. In London, if you jog around the block it's like smoking a cigarette."

At Sotheby's, he and his staff secure English and European objects and collections to sell, a job that requires linguistic dexterity. Schmidt speaks English, German and Italian fluently, French well, and has a reading knowledge of Dutch, Spanish, Greek and Latin.

Mary Abbe • 612-673-4431