In May, the Santa Monica Museum of Art announced that it would change its name to the Institute of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, and move to a 12,700-square-foot space in Downtown Los Angeles next spring. Now it is staffing up, revealing today that it has hired Jamillah James as curator.
James comes from the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles, where she was an assistant curator, focusing on Art + Practice, the multifaceted arts and community center that was started by artist Mark Bradford, philanthropist Eileen Harris Norton, and activist Allan DiCastro in the Leimert Park neighborhood in 2014.
“It’s a museum that has quite a rich and interesting institutional history,” James said of the former Santa Monica Museum of Art in a telephone interview this morning. “They have a clear track record of supporting challenging work, and they have been ahead of the curve for many years.” She noted that among the artists who have shown there since its founding in 1984 are Michael Asher, Mickalene Thomas, and Pope.L.
At the Hammer, James’s curatorial credits include solo shows with two superb and closely watched artists, Njideka Akunyili Crosby and Alex Da Corte. (The Da Corte show, titled “A Season in Hell,” opened last month and runs through September 17.) She also organized a toothsome group show, called “A Shape That Stands Up,” which included work by Robert Colescott, Jamian Juliano-Villani, Amy Sillman, and others, and assisted on shows of work by Bradford and John Outerbridge. A show she is organizing with Simone Leigh will open next month. (New Yorkers can also catch Leigh’s work at the New Museum until September 18.)
A transplant from New York, James said L.A. is “a very artist-centered community and there’s a very real spirit of collaboration and support that I appreciate a great deal.” The ICA, she said, “reflects the energy of the artist community, with its commitment to the artists that are here” and she emphasized the institution’s “real engagement with the public on difficult issues.”
Before coming to the Hammer, James was a curatorial fellow at the Studio Museum in Harlem, where she worked on the group show “Fore” (part of the museum’s ongoing series of displays on emerging artists, all of which having titles beginning with the letter F) and the Charles Gaines exhibition “Gridwork 1974–1989.” She was also a fellow at the Queens Museum and co-organized the 2010 Queens International.
“Downtown Los Angeles is changing,” James said of the neighborhood that will be ICA’s new home. “There are a number of new spaces, new museums, new galleries, new artist-run spaces opening down there, and there’s an anergy and vibrancy that’s really exciting.”