Since its founding in 1959, the Guggenheim Museum, like many art institutions, has lacked a diverse curatorial staff. The museum has now made a key hire that could point toward further progress.
Ashley James has been named the museum’s associate curator of contemporary art, making her the first black curator to work at the museum full-time. James, who began in her new position earlier this week, recently was an assistant curator of contemporary art at the Brooklyn Museum in New York, where she was the lead organizer of that institution’s presentation of the critically acclaimed exhibition, “Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power.”
“Ashley is a curator who has demonstrated incisive and intersectional thinking about contemporary artistic practice,” Nancy Spector, the Guggenheim’s artistic director and chief curator, said in a statement. “Her work complements the Guggenheim’s mission to present the art of today, which we understand as a deep and expansive view of art history.”
James’s hire comes on the heels of a show by art historian Chaédria LaBouvier recently became the first black woman to curate an exhibition at the institution. (That show, which focused on the creation of the Jean-Michel Basquiat painting The Death of Michael Stewart and the activism surrounding it, closed earlier this month.)
Prior to working at the Brooklyn Museum, James worked in the Museum of Modern Art’s drawings and prints department, where she was Mellon Research Consortium fellow who helped with MoMA’s Charles White and Adrian Piper retrospectives. For the Brooklyn Museum, she also staged a solo show of work by Eric N. Mack, and she is also credited on a forthcoming John Edmonds exhibition. She is currently working toward a Ph.D. in English literature from Yale University, and has researched artists such as Palmer Hayden and Howardena Pindell, who, as it happens, was one of the first black curators at MoMA.