by VICTORIA L. VALENTINE
A SELECT GROUP OF BLACK CURATORS is making significant contributions to the museum field—collaborating with artists, organizing important exhibitions, shaping collections and programming, and taking advantage of opportunities to lend their expertise beyond their institutions.
Their representation is growing, slowly, but their presence and achievements remain rare. On the American museum front, among curators, conservators, educators and leaders, only 4 percent are African-American, according to a survey by the Mellon Foundation. A fraction of this group holds curatorial posts.
Since Mellon conducted its survey in 2015, there has been a concerted effort to address the lack of diversity in the museum field. The Studio Museum in Harlem and Museum of Modern Art have established a joint fellowship. Mellon and other foundations in collaboration with universities and museums are funding internships and fellowships to develop the next generation of curators of color and address access issues with paid training opportunities and mentorship programs to provide students with connections, guidance, and support.
Following reports in 2016 and 2017, this year’s Culture Type list of art curators who have taken on new opportunities highlights the achievements of those who have been appointed to permanent institutional positions. Some of the emerging curators featured on this year’s list have already benefitted from the targeted investments made in training the next generation of curators.
The 2018 list also notes more seasoned curators who have accepted temporary posts working on special projects and programming with biennials and art fairs. On this front, there is plenty to look forward to in the coming year.
Nearly all the major U.S. art fairs and biennial-style exhibitions in 2019 will be influenced by black curators. From the Armory Show, and Frieze in New York and Los Angeles to Expo Chicago and the Whitney Biennial, they have been appointed artistic directors, tapped to select participating artists and galleries, and recruited to organize public programming.
Nearly all the major U.S. art fairs and biennial-style exhibitions in 2019 will be influenced by black curators. From the Armory Show, and Frieze in New York and Los Angeles to Expo Chicago and the Whitney Biennial, they have been appointed artistic directors, tapped to select participating artists and galleries, and recruited to organize public programming. African American curators are also co-curating forthcoming editions of Prospect New Orleans (2020) and the New Museum Triennial (2021). A selection of new 2018 appointments follows:
Allison Glenn recently guest curated the group exhibition “Out of Easy Reach,” which was presented in Chicago and Bloomington, Ind. | Photo by Mariana Sheppard, Courtesy Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art
Allison Glenn, Associate Curator Contemporary Art | Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, Ark.
Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Ark., named Allison Glenn associate curator contemporary art in January. She was previously manager of publications and curatorial associate at Prospect New Orleans. At Crystal Bridges, she joined a curatorial team that includes Lauren Haynes, curator of contemporary art. In October, Glenn conducted a conversation with artist Genevieve Gaignard at the museum.
Yolanda Wisher was 2016-17 poet laureate of Philadelphia. | Photo by Ryan Collerd. Courtesy of The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage
In February, Yolanda Wisher was named curator of spoken word at Philadelphia Contemporary. Founded in 2016, Philadelphia Contemporary is an independent, non-collecting, multidisciplinary, and exploratory institution devoted to visual and performing arts. Programming involves pop-up events, partnerships and collaborations while plans for a permanent space are underway. Nato Thompson, previously of Creative Time, is artistic director. Before coming on board, Wisher curated Philadelphia Contemporary’s Outbound Poetry Festival at 30th Street Station in April 2017.
Adrienne Edwards served as curator of “Assembly,” the new Live program at Frieze New York (May 3-6, 2018) featuring performances and installations. | Photo by Whitney Browne
The Whitney Museum of American Art appointed Adrienne Edwards performance curator in February. She had been serving as a curator at Performa in New York City since 2010 when the announcement was made. She officially started at the Whitney in May. Edwards organized the first solo museum show of multidisciplinary artist Jason Moran, which opened at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis in April. A pianist and composer, Moran’s exhibition is currently on view at the Institute of Contemporary Art Boston (through Jan 21, 2019) and will travel to the Wexner Center for the Arts in Columbus, Ohio, before concluding at the Whitney in September 2019.
With a background in architectural design and curatorial studies, Yesomi Umolu (shown at the Chicago Cultural Center) concentrates on global contemporary art and spatial practices. | Photo by Andrew Bruah, Courtesy Chicago Architecture Biennial
In March, Yesomi Umolu was named artistic director of the 2019 edition of the Chicago Architecture Biennial. Her appointment was announced by the biennial and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel. Umolu serves as exhibitions curator at the Logan Center for the Arts at the University of Chicago, where she recently organized “Kapwani Kiwanga: The sum and its parts,” the Canadian-born, Paris-based artist’s first solo exhibition in the United States. The biennial is Sept. 19, 2019-Jan. 5, 2020.
From left, Erin J. Gilbert is developing a strategy to bring new archives into the collection of the Archives of American Art, and Rayna Andrews is organizing and cataloging existing holdings and new acquisitions. | Courtesy Archives of American Art, via LinkedIn
Erin J. Gilbert, Curator, African American Manuscripts and Rayna Andrews, Archivist | Smithsonian Archives of American Art, Washington, D.C.
In March, the Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art (AAA) announced the appointments of a curator and archivist to staff a three-year African American Collecting Initiative supported by a $575,000 grant from the Henry Luce Foundation. The grant also provides for one paid intern each summer. Erin J. Gilbert was named curator of African American manuscripts and Rayna Andrews is serving as an archivist. AAA has a substantial collection of archives and oral histories of important African American artists spanning generations. The goal of the initiative is to build upon the existing holdings.
Curator Brittan Webb previously served as a curatorial and research assistant at the African American Museum in Philadelphia, where one of John Rhoden’s best known works is installed out front. | Courtesy PAFA
Brittany Webb was named curator of the John Rhoden Collection at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (PAFA) in April. PAFA accepted responsibility for more than 275 works by Rhoden (1918-2001), along with $5 million to support hiring a curator, organizing a traveling exhibition, producing a major publication, and arranging to place the African American sculptor’s work in museum collections. With Webb on board in the newly created position, she is charged with steering the projects and stewarding his legacy.
Zoé Whitley co-organized the traveling exhibition “Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power.” | Photo by Andrew Dunkley, Tate Photography
The British Pavilion at the 2019 Venice Biennale will be curated by Zoé Whitley. Glasgow-based artist Cathy Wilkes was selected to represent Great Britain at the international exhibition and Whitley, curator of international art at the Tate Modern in London, will organize the presentation. Whitley completed her Ph.D. this year under the supervision of artist, professor, and 2017 Turner Prize winner Lubaina Himid at the University of Central Lancashire. For the first time, the British Council invited UK-based mid-career curators to apply for the opportunity to curate the pavilion. Whitley was selected through the open-call process. The 58th Venice Biennale is May 11-Nov. 24, 2019.
Naima J. Keith is taking on curator roles at Expo Chicago in 2019 and Prospect New Orleans in 2020. She received the David C. Driskell Prize in 2017. | Photo by Cristina Gandolfo, Expo Chicago
Naima J. Keith, Co-Curator | Prospect.5, New Orleans and Curator, Exposure Section | Expo Chicago 2019
For the first time, Prospect New Orleans named two curators to envision the next installment of the citywide exhibition. Naima J. Keith, deputy director and chief curator of the California African American Museum (CAAM), and independent curator Diana Nawi were appointed co-curators in May. Both are based in Los Angeles and have previously collaborated. Prospect.5 opens in fall 2020. In the meantime, Keith is taking on another role. In November, Expo Chicago announced she is curating the Exposure section of the art fair. The section spotlights emerging galleries (in business eight years or less) with one- and two-artist presentations. Expo Chicago is Sept. 19-22, 2019.
The Showroom in London named Elvira Dyangani Ose director in June. Challenging “what art can be and do for a wide range of audiences,” The Showroom commissions art, programming and publications and provides a platform for artists to mount their first solo exhibitions in London. Dyangani Ose previously served as senior curator at Creative Time in New York City and is a lecturer in visual cultures at Goldsmiths, University of London.
Juana Williams earned a master’s degree in art history from Wayne State University in Detroit, where a major part of her thesis explored the contributions of black women artists during the Civil Rights Movement. | Photo by Jeff Cancelosi
Juana Williams, Exhibitions Curator | Urban Institute for Contemporary Art at Kendall College of Art and Design, Ferris State University, Grand Rapids, Mich.
In June, the Urban Institute for Contemporary Art (UICA) at Kendall College of Art and Design at Ferris State University hired Juana Williams as exhibitions curator. An independent curator, she most recently served as assistant to the chair of the department of art and art history at Wayne State University in Detroit.
Curator Vera Grant held posts at Stanford University and Harvard University before joining the University of Michigan earlier this year. | Courtesy UMMA
Vera Grant, Deputy Director of Curatorial Affairs and Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art | University of Michigan Museum of Art, Ann Arbor
In July, Vera Grant was appointed deputy director of curatorial affairs and curator of modern and contemporary art at the University of Michigan Museum of Art (UMMA) in Ann Arbor. Previously, Grant was director of the Ethelbert Cooper Gallery of African & African American Art at Harvard University’s Hutchins Center. She has also served as executive director of the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute at Harvard and associate director of the African and African American Studies Program at Stanford University (2001-2007). She started at UMMA in September.
An artist, curator, and arts administrator, Kristina Newman-Scott hails from Kingston, Jamaica. | Photo by Chion Wolf
In July, BRIC announced Kristina Newman-Scott had been tapped as its new president. She previously served as director of culture for the state of Connecticut. An art and media organization, BRIC describes itself as “the leading presenter of free cultural programming in Brooklyn.” Newman-Scott will oversee a multitude of programming, including exhibitions, performances, film and television projects, a summer-long festival and a fall jazz festival, and school-based initiatives. BRIC marked its 40th anniversary in September.
A curator and critical race historian, Kelli Morgan has been awarded fellowships by the Ford Foundation (2014), Birmingham Museum of Art (2014-15), and Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (2016). | Courtesy IMA
Kelli Morgan, Associate Curator of American Art | Indianapolis Museum of Art at Newfields, Indianapolis, Ind.
The Indianapolis Museum of Art (IMA) at Newfields announced the appointment of Kelli Morgan as associate curator of American art in July. She has held curatorial and scholarly positions at a variety of institutions. A Detroit native, Morgan earned a Ph.D. in Afro-American Studies and a graduate certificate in Public History – Museum Studies from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst in 2017. Next March, she is co-curating the exhibition “Samuel Levi Jones: Left of Center” at IMA.
Curator Ndubuisi C. Ezeluomba earned a Ph.D. in Art History from the University of Florida, Gainesville, specializing in historic African shrines. | Courtesy NOMA
The New Orleans Museum of Art (NOMA) named Ndubuisi C. Ezeluomba the Françoise Billion Richardson Curator of African Art. Originally from Benin City, Nigeria, Ezeluomba joins NOMA after serving as the Andrew W. Mellon Curatorial Research Specialist in African Art at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. In prior roles, he worked on two major exhibitions at the Harn Museum of Art at the University of Floria—“Elusive Spirits: African Masquerades” and “Kongo Across the Waters.”
The next New Museum Triennial will be co-curated by Margot Norton, curator at the New Museum, and Jamillah James, curator at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles. James was previously assistant curator at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles where she collaborated on exhibitions and public programming with Art + Practice. Scheduled to open in 2021, the New Museum’s international exhibition is dedicated to presenting the work of emerging artists from around the world.
Curator V. Mitch McEwen is also a professor of architecture at Princeton University. | Courtesy A(n)other Lab, Princeton SOA
The New Museum in New York named V. Mitch McEwen curator of IdeasCity, an annual initiative that “explores the future of cities with culture as a driving force” through enterprising gatherings, projects, and exhibitions. McEwen is principal and cofounder of A(n) Office, a collaborative of design studios based in Detroit and New York. She is responsible for the 2018-19 cycle of IdeasCity. On Sept. 15, IdeasCity took place in Toronto and a spring 2019 event is planned in New Orleans.
Larry Ossei-Mensah co-curated “Allison Janae Hamilton: Pitch,” the artist’s first solo museum exhibition, which is on view at Mass MOCA through February 2019. | Photo by Andrew Boyle
The Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit (MOCAD) appointed Larry Ossei-Mensah senior curator in August. MOCAD brought Ossei-Mensah on board to help institute a more expansive approach to the museum’s exhibitions and public programming. Over the past decade, he has been an independent curator, organizing exhibitions, producing live events, and contributing to publications. In New York City, he has curated shows with galleries such as Elizabeth Dee, Jenkins Johnson, and Edward Tyler Nahem Fine Art. In Rome, Ossei-Mensah recently co-curated “Postcard from New York—Part II” at Anna Marra Contemporanea. He is also a co-founder of Artnoir, a collective of writers, artists, and curators that designs and produces experiences for a diverse community of new generation creatives. He officially joined MOCAD in September.
Curator Legacy Russell previously held posts at the Artsy, the Brooklyn Museum, The Bruce High Quality Foundation, Creative Time, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Whitney Museum of American Art. | Courtesy Studio Museum in Harlem
In August, the Studio Museum in Harlem named Legacy Russell associate curator, exhibitions. The museum is in the midst of its 50th anniversary year and is currently producing programs and collaborative projects off-site while its new building is constructed at its 125th Street location. A writer and curator whose work focuses on gender, performance, and new media, Russell most recently served as European gallery relations lead at Artsy. In 2017, she collaborated on a series of multimedia events focused on digital feminism at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London.
Akili Tommasino’s new appointment at MFA Boston marks a return to the museum where he interned in the Art of Europe department a decade ago. | Franz Lino, Courtesy MFA Boston
Akili Tommasino was named associate curator for modern and contemporary art at the Museum of Fine Arts (MFA) Boston in August. He officially joined the museum in the newly created role in October. Tommasino has been a curatorial assistant at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) since 2014. There, he founded Prep for Prep/Sotheby’s Summer Art Academy, a program designed to expose New York City high school students of color to museums and the larger world of art and promote diversity in the field.
Naomi Beckwith organized “Prisoner of Love” which opens Jan. 26 at MCA Chicago. Centered around Arthur Jafa’s video montage “Love is the Message, The Message is Death,” the forthcoming exhibition features a rotating selection of works from the museum’s collection that respond to the same powerful themes about the black experience and life in America Jafa explores in his work. | Photo by Maria Ponce, Courtesy MCA Chicago
In August, Naomi Beckwith was promoted to senior curator at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago. Since 2011, she has been curator at the museum. Beckwith co-curated the first-ever survey of multidisciplinary artist Howardena Pindell with Valerie Cassel Oliver of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts (VMFA). A comprehensive exploration of her five-decade practice, “Howardena Pindell: What Remains to be Seen” opened at MCA Chicago in February, traveled to VMFA, and is headed to the Rose Art Museum at Brandeis University, where it will be on view beginning Feb. 1. Beckwith chaired the Armory Show’s curatorial summit earlier this year and also served as curatorial adviser for SITElines 2018, the biennial in Santa Fe, N.M. (Aug. 3, 2018-Jan. 6, 2019).
N’Goné Fall said Season Africa 2020 will expose France to Africa’s emerging leaders under the age of 30—the artists and creative thinkers of tomorrow—and how their vision of the world is shaping the continent of Africa. | F.diouf Photography, Courtesy Institut français
N’Goné Fall was named general commissioner of the Season Africa 2020 at the end of August. A grand undertaking initiated by French President Emmanuel Macron, Season Africa 2020 is “an invitation to look, learn and understand the world from an African perspective” and will occur over six months beginning June 2020 in metropolitan France and its territories. The ambitious program spans the creative disciplines—from visual arts, film, fashion, performing arts, architecture, design, and literature to science, technology, and sports—and will feature exhibitions, public conversations, and large outdoor events. Senegalese-born Fall is a scholar, art magazine editor, and cultural policy consultant, who has curated exhibitions in Africa, Europe, and the United States.
Jade Powers curated two exhibition currently on view at the Kemper Museum of Art: “Abstracted Wonders: The Power of Lines” and “Deconstructing Marcus Jansen.” Shown, Powers with detail of Nari Ward’s “Breathing Panel: Oriented Right” (2015). | Photo by Kenny Johnson, Courtesy Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art
In August, the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art in Kansas City , Mo., announced the expansion of its curatorial team with the appointment of Jade Powers as assistant curator. Powers previously served as 2017–2018 Romare Bearden Graduate Museum Fellow at the Saint Louis Art Museum. During her Bearden fellowship, she created an interpretive guide to works by African American artists in the collection of the Saint Louis Museum of Art, and also helped document a gift of 81 abstract works by African American artists. Powers also held a prior post at the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis.
Curator Lauren Haynes’s role at Crystal Bridges Museum is expanding to include curator of visual art at The Momentary, a forthcoming satellite venue the museum is developing. | Photo by Beth Hall, Courtesy Armory Show
In September, the Armory Show announced the curatorial team for the 2019, including Lauren Haynes who will organize the Focus section of the art fair. Focus is “devoted to solo- and dual-artist presentations by relevant and compelling artists.” Haynes is the contemporary art curator at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Ark., where she curated the first U.S. presentation of the touring exhibition “Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power.” Haynes previously spent a decade at the Studio Museum in Harlem. The 2019 Armory Show is open to the public March 7-10.
Over the years, Hamza Walker has engaged in public conversations with some of the most interesting figures in contemporary art—most recently, artists Theaster Gates, Walead Beshty, Todd Gray, Matthew Day Jackson, Shinique Smith, Paul Sepuya, and curator Naomi Beckwith.
In September, Hamza Walker was named inaugural curator of Frieze Los Angeles Talks and Music. The programming will center around conversations and music and “highlight Los Angeles as a place of interdisciplinary experimentation that extends into the mediums of sound, poetry and performance.” Walker is executive Director of LAXART, a nonprofit art space in Los Angeles. In 2016, he was co-curator of “Made in L.A.” at the Hammer Museum. Previously, he served as director of education and associate curator at the Renaissance Society at the University of Chicago. Frieze is presenting its first fair in Los Angeles Feb. 14-17, 2019, at Paramount Pictures Studios in Hollywood.
Under Linda Harrison’s leadership, the Museum of the African Diaspora in San Francisco (MoAD) was re-designed doubling its gallery space. The exhibition program was transformed and she also introduced poet- and chef-in-residence initiatives. | Photo by Adrian Octavius Walker, Courtesy Newark Museum
The Newark Museum named Linda Harrison director and CEO in October. She joined New Jersey’s largest museum after serving as director and chief executive of the Museum of the African Diaspora in San Francisco since 2013. In 2017, the Newark Museum was one of 20 U.S. museums selected by the Ford Foundation and the Walton Family Foundation to participate in an initiative aimed at diversifying curatorial staffing and management at art museums. In 2019, the Newark Museum is celebrating its 110th year.
Pérez Art Museum Miami Director Franklin Sirman (with Arturo Herrera, “When Alone Again III,” 2001), hosted a series of museum events earlier this month during Miami Art Week, parties, dinners, and talks centered around exhibitions and installations by Ebony G. Patterson and Christo, among others. | Photo by Angel Valentin, Courtesy PAMM
Frieze has announced collaborations with museum leaders for its 2019 New York edition, including Franklin Sirmans, director of the Pérez Art Museum Miami. At Frieze, Sirmans is planning a themed section paying tribute to Just Above Midtown (JAM), the legendary art gallery founded by Linda Goode Bryant in New York City. From 1974-1986, JAM provided a platform and gathering space for artists of color who were generally ignored by galleries and museums. Alonzo Davis, David Hammons, Norman Lewis, Senga Nengudi, Lorraine O’Grady, Lorna Simpson, and Fred Wilson are among the artists who showed their work at the black-owned gallery. Working with Bryant, Sirmans will “reimagine” JAM, inviting galleries to mount solo artist presentations. Prior to his appointment at PAMM, he served as department head and curator of contemporary art at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Frieze New York is May 2-5, 2019 at Randall’s Island Park.
Courtney J. Martin stands before a Robert Ryman painting at Dia:Chelsea. | Courtesy Dia Art Foundation
Courtney J. Martin is curating the second installment of the Frieze Artist Award at Frieze New York. The art fair made the announcement earlier this month. Martin is deputy director and chief curator of the Dia Art Foundation. She previously served as an assistant professor of art history and architecture at Brown University, where she is currently on leave. The Frieze Award provides an opportunity for an emerging artist to create a site-specific installation for the 2019 art fair (May 2-5). Artist Kapwani Kiwanga was selected for the inaugural New York award and commission, which was curated by Adrienne Edwards. For 2019, the deadline for submissions is Jan. 11.