In recent decades, as the biennial ecosystem has expanded, so too has an international network of curators. Building on a legacy launched by the work of figures like Harald Szeemann, Germano Celant, and Okwui Enwezor, these curators, many of whom emerged in the 1990s and 2000s, have organized groundbreaking surveys and forward-looking biennials, and founded initiatives intended to spur on creative thinking among others.
This list collects 25 curators who are shaping the art world today. Based on several continents and focusing on a number of different topics, they have helped make art history more inclusive and, in many cases, transformed biennials and institutions with which they have been involved. From feminist art shows to globalist surveys to ambitious quinquennials, their work has ranged vastly—and helped define the profession.
A list of 25 of the most influential curators working today follows below.
With an eye for spotting emerging talent and a passion for celebrating the work of under-recognized artists, Naomi Beckwith has held curatorial positions at some of the top art institutions in the United States, including the Studio Museum in Harlem, where she was associate curator from 2007 to 2011; the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, where she was curator from 2011 until her promotion to senior curator in 2018; and now the Guggenheim Museum in New York, where she was named deputy director and chief curator in 2021.
Her curatorial credits include a 2010 solo show of Lynette Yiadom-Boakye at the Studio Museum, as well as a 2018 traveling Howardena Pindell survey that debuted at the MCA Chicago and traveled to the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond and Brandeis University’s Rose Art Museum in Waltham, Massachusetts. She has also organized shows dedicated to the Propeller Group, Keren Cytter, William J. O’Brien, Yinka Shonibare, Leslie Hewitt, and others. She recently served on the curatorial team of the widely acclaimed “Grief and Grievance: Art and Mourning in America,” the late curator Okwui Enwezor’s final exhibition, at the New Museum.
In 1996, a group show held in the French city of Bordeaux ended up altering art history. That exhibition, “Traffic” at the CAPC Musée d’Art Contemporain Bordeaux, was curated by Nicolas Bourriaud, and it prophesied the rise of a style that took as its medium human interactions and interpersonal relationships. Two years later, Bourriaud would label that style “relational aesthetics” in a book of the same name, with artists such as Liam Gillick, Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster, and Rirkrit Tiravanija among its purveyors. By the mid-2000s, there was a sense that relational aesthetics had run its course—“What makes relational aesthetics so boring?” the now-disgraced artist Joe Scanlan quipped in Artforum in 2005—but its influence has been felt far and wide, regardless of its naysayers.
This ambitious curatorial style characterizes the work of Bourriaud, whose tough exhibitions have often considered hard-to-pin-down concepts related to globalism and mass production. His impact has been felt acutely in France, his home country. In 1999, with Jérôme Sans, Bourriaud formed the Palais de Tokyo in Paris, which is now the country’s most important contemporary art museum. Despite his high stature, Bourriaud, who briefly served as a Tate curator and organized the 2019 Istanbul Biennial, has run into trouble at other French institutions—he was fired as the leader of the École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts, Paris’s top art school, in 2015, and he was ousted as the director of Mo.Co, an art space he founded in Montpellier, amid a bureaucratic clash earlier this year.
When Cornelia Butler curated “WACK! Art and the Feminist Revolution” at the Museum of Contemporary Art Los Angeles in 2007, her goal was to effectively upturn all the ways we talked about art by women from the ’60s and ’70s. “My ambition for ‘WACK!’ is to make the case that feminism’s impact on art of the 1970s constitutes the most influential international ‘movement’ of any during the postwar period,” she told the Los Angeles Times. With 120 artists included, the show, which later traveled to MoMA PS1 in New York, went far beyond the canon and pulled out a number of figures who are now considered giants—Barbara Hammer, a famed lesbian experimental filmmaker; Judith F. Baca, the Chicana muralist; Howardena Pindell, whose paintings synthesized politics and abstraction; and Theresa Hak Kyung Cha, a writer and artist born in South Korea and based in New York, among them. As Butler recalled in 2021, the show “interrogated white feminism” at a time when doing so was rare for major museum exhibitions.
Since 2013, Butler has worked as chief curator at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles. Her curatorial credits have included retrospectives for Adrian Piper, Lygia Clark, Lari Pittman, as well as the 2014 edition of the museum’s Made in L.A. biennial, which focuses on artists based in the Californian city. Butler’s edition, co-curated with Michael Ned Holte, is partly credited with helping make the biennial what it is today. “It was clear that what was on offer was an established, regular accounting of the state of artmaking” in the city, artist Thomas Lawson wrote of the 2014 edition in Artforum at the time.
The director of the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, D.C. since 2014, Melissa Chiu has played a crucial role in the field of Asian contemporary art throughout her career. One of her early pursuits was the establishment of Gallery 4A in Sydney (now the 4A Centre for Contemporary Asian Art) with a group of Asian Australian artists, filmmakers, performers, and other creatives. Chiu served as the founding director of that institution.
In 2001, she was appointed at curator of Asian contemporary art at the Asia Society in New York, one of the first positions of its kind anywhere in the United States. At the Asia Society, where she later became director, she organized solo exhibitions for Zhang Huan, Sarah Sze, Yoshitomo Nara, and other artists, and she spearheaded the creation of a contemporary art collection for the institution. During her tenure at the helm of the Hirshhorn, the museum has presented the blockbuster 2017 exhibition “Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirrors,” among other notable shows, and has spearheaded the museum’s acquisition of work by Park Seo-bo, Natsuyuki Nakanishi, Senga Nengudi, and more.
A typical Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev show comes with an epic topic—the connection between trauma and war, say, or the role that salt water plays in the global economy. (These were the guiding principles behind her editions of Documenta in 2012 and the Istanbul Biennial in 2015, respectively.) Because Christov-Bakargiev’s focuses are often so grand, her exhibitions should collapse under their own weight. That they do not accounts for their success—and why they have acted as a model for others working on major biennials.
Christov-Bakargiev got her start in Italy, and then gained an international following as senior curator at the P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center in New York, where in 2000 she oversaw the first edition of “Greater New York,” a recurring exhibition that is now closely watched. Then, in 2001, she headed back to Italy and became chief curator of the Castello di Rivoli, which she left in 2008. It was her 2012 Documenta edition—the second ever at the august German quinquennial helmed by a woman—that brought her to the attention of the wider world. Themed around the notion of “Collapse and Recovery,” it featured work by Pierre Huyghe, Giuseppe Penone, Walid Raad, Michael Rakowitz, Haegue Yang, and more.
[Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev writes about Turin’s vibrant art scene.]
At the Castello di Rivoli, where she returned as director in 2016, Christov-Bakargiev has continued her interest in rigorous exhibitions, with one in 2021 focusing on expressivity in art over the course of eight centuries, offering up a lineage connecting Simone dei Crocifissi’s 14th-century religious scenes to Anne Imhof’s 2019 performance Sex.
“Performance may well shape the coming decades of the twenty-first century as profoundly as it did the twentieth century, perhaps even more overtly than it did before,” RoseLee Goldberg wrote toward the end of the 2011 edition of her book Performance Art: From Futurism to the Present, first published in 1979.
One of the medium’s staunchest defenders, Goldberg has gone to bat for the continued relevancy of performance art and widened the public’s view—and respect—for it as an art form. In 2005, Goldberg launched the Performa biennial in New York. It has accrued a reputation as the most venturesome showcase for performance art, mainly because it has enlisted artists who don’t typically work in the medium—from Julie Mehretu to Wyatt Kahn—to produce time-based pieces for it, even if their projects are often variable in quality. Goldberg, who got her start during the ’70s as a curator at the Kitchen in New York, once said of Performa, “It’s about rewriting art history from the performance point of view.”
Thelma Golden, director and chief curator of the Studio Museum in Harlem, got her start as an intern at the museum she would one day lead. She then worked as a curator at the Whitney Museum of American Art beginning in 1988. While there she was a member of the curatorial team that organized in the famous 1993 Whitney Biennial, which only recently has been reassessed for the groundbreaking art it presented, and also mounted the acclaimed exhibition “Black Male: Representations of Masculinity in Contemporary American Art,” which featured work by artists like Fred Wilson, David Hammons, Lyle Ashton Harris, Adrian Piper, and Lorna Simpson that looked at the ways in which Black men were represented—and usually stereotyped—in mainstream media.
In 2000, Lowery Stokes Sims, who had just been named director of the Studio Museum, asked Golden to join her at the institution as deputy director for exhibitions and programs. Then in 2005, Golden became its director and chief curators. Under her leadership, the museum has mounted important surveys of artists like Alma Thomas, Stanley Whitney, Mark Bradford, and the Spiral collective, as well as the important “Freestyle” exhibition that spawned a series of “F” shows that have looked at the various modes of contemporary art making by African American, Black, and African diaspora artists. One of the most enduring projects Golden has undertaken for the Studio Museum will be the David Adjaye–designed building that is currently under construction.
All the while, the museum’s artist residency program has hosted some of the most important artists working today, among them Simone Leigh, Njideka Akunyili Crosby, Leslie Hewitt, and Titus Kaphar. In an interview with ARTnews, Golden said that, at the Studio Museum, artists and curators “begin their careers [here] and are able to not only get real professional experience but to form a mission and get a vision of real museum work. I say this as someone whose career is the result of those early experiences at the Studio Museum.”
In 2019, Rita Gonzalez became head of the contemporary art department of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Since joining the museum in 2006 as an associate curator, she has centered the work of under-recognized Latinx and Latin American artists in her exhibition organizing and efforts to diversify the institution’s collection. Some of her curatorial credits include “Phantom Sightings: Art after the Chicano Movement” (2008), “Asco: Elite of the Obscure, A Retrospective, 1972–1987” (2011), and the 2017 exhibition “L.A. Exuberance: New Gifts by Artists,” which followed LACMA’s 50th Anniversary Artist Gifts Initiative.
Gonzalez was also part of the curatorial teams for the 2018 Gwangju Biennale, the 2014 edition of Prospect New Orleans, and Frieze Projects in Los Angeles in 2020. “There need to be more institutions that are carving out a space and making a platform for Latinx artists. It can’t just be Houston, Miami, and L.A., because the truth of the matter is that Latinos are in every state and every region,” Gonzalez said in a 2021 interview with ARTnews.
In 1997, Hou Hanru and Hans Ulrich Obrist joined forces to organize “Cities on the Move,” a wide-ranging survey focused on economic development in East Asia. Summing up the show has proven an impossible task, especially because it morphed as it traveled across the world, making stops at Secession in Vienna, the P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center in New York, Kiasma in Helsinki, and elsewhere. Its offerings ran the gamut from works by Takashi Murakami, Rirkrit Tiravanija, Lee Bul, Huang Yong Ping, and more to architectural designs exemplifying trends in the region, such as structures intended to prevent traffic congestion. The Asia Art Archive has called the show “a landmark event.”
In the years since, Hou has continued producing important contributions to Asian art history—in 2003, for Francesco Bonami’s main exhibition at the Venice Biennale, Hou organized “Zones of Urgency,” a mini-show about the increasingly fast pace of urban living in Asia at the dawn of the new millennium, and in 2018, for the Guggenheim Museum in New York, he organized “Art and China After 1989: Theater of the World” with Alexandra Munroe and Philip Tinari. Since 2013, Hou has served as artistic director of the MAXXI museum in Rome.
Candice Hopkins has made her mark on the art world in recent years for exhibitions that look at the breadth of art-making by Indigenous artists around the world, from Canada and the United States to Australia, Latin America, and Finland. Hopkins has worked on numerous international biennials, including three editions of SITElines at SITE Santa Fe, Document 14 in Kassel, Germany and Athens. Currently she is senior curator of the Toronto Biennial of Art, which staged its first edition in 2019. She also served as curator for the Canadian Pavilion at the 2019 Venice Biennale, which showcased the work of the Inuit artist collective and film production company Isuma.
Prior to working on the biennial circuit, Hopkins, who is a citizen of the Carcross/Tagish First Nation, co-organized major exhibitions of contemporary Indigenous art like “Close Encounters: The Next 500 Years” in 2011 at various venues in Winnipeg and “Sakahàn: International Indigenous Art” in 2013 at the National Gallery of Canada. More recent thematic exhibitions include the traveling exhibitions “Art for a New Understanding: Native Voices, 1950s to Now” (2018) and “Soundings: An Exhibition in Five Parts” (2019).
But it’s Hopkins’s dedication to listening to the artists she works with—from the late Beau Dick (Dzawada’enux) to Rebecca Belmore (Anishinaabe) to Hock E Aye Vi Edgar Heap of Birds (Cheyenne/Arapaho) to Postcommodity—that has come to define her practice. “In art we have these very bad tendencies to represent the ‘other,’” she told ARTnews in 2019. “We can still have more complicated discussions about identity, but, in order to have them, we have to confront that. It’s more of a deeper question of who’s representing whom and who’s speaking for whom.”
An expert in contemporary Asian art, Mami Kataoka joined the Mori Art Museum in Tokyo in 2003 as its chief curator and deputy director, and she has been the museum’s director since 2019. She is also president of Japan’s International Committee for Museums and Collections of Modern Art and the artistic director for the Aichi Triennale in Japan, scheduled to open in 2022.
Among the presentations she has organized at the museum are solo shows for Ai Weiwei, Aida Makoto, and Shiota Chiharu. She served as co-artistic director of the 9th Gwangju Biennale in 2012 and artistic director for the 21st Biennale of Sydney in 2018. She has helped organize major exhibitions outside the Mori Art Museum, including “Phantoms of Asia: Contemporary Awakens the Past” at the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco and “Ai Weiwei: According to What?” at the Hirshhorn in Washington, D.C.
Kataoka is one of only a few women museum directors in Japan, and she has said she hopes her work at the helm of the Mori Art Museum can address political and social issues in and outside the country. “I want to make my time here at the museum reflect on how contemporary art can be part of the global discussion. It’s a big challenge. It’s a quiet challenge,” she told Tokyo Weekender last year.
As the South Korean art scene continues to rise in international prominence, Sunjung Kim has emerged as one of the country’s top curators. These days, Kim is best known for serving as president of the Gwangju Biennale Foundation, which oversees the recurring South Korean exhibition that is now considered one of the world’s top biennials. (Amid the pandemic, Kim helped keep the Biennale afloat amid several delays—and even managed to mount an in-person edition in 2021.)
But Kim’s work is far more ambitious than that biennial alone. During the ’90s and early ’00s, she served as chief curator of the Artsonje Center in Seoul, and later served as its director from 2016 to 2017. Alongside the exhibitions of Martin Creed, Abraham Cruzvillegas, and Haegue Yang that took place there, she has been working on the Real DMZ Project, an initiative begun in 2012 that explores the fraught social conditions of the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea through artworks and research. She aims to curate an exhibition in North Korea—which, were it to happen, would mark a big step forward in a country where artistic freedom is severely limited.
Having curated important exhibitions devoted to Claes Oldenburg and Andy Warhol at the Moderna Museet in Stockholm during the ’60s, Kasper König established Portikus, a contemporary art hall in Frankfurt, in 1987; taught at the Städelschule, also in Frankfurt, for 12 years, and at one point even began acting as its rector; and served as the director of the Museum Ludwig in Cologne from 2000 to 2012.
But for many, his crowning achievement remains founding Skulptur Projekte Münster, a German outdoor sculpture exhibition that takes place once every 10 years. In the first edition, in 1977, König assembled a primarily American group of artists, among them Carl Andre, Bruce Nauman, and Richard Serra. Locals were not pleased with the show—and some even vandalized a giant Oldenburg sculpture in it resembling two billiard balls. But since then, the city’s residents have come to feel attached to the show, and certain projects—including Nicole Eisenman’s beloved fountain—have become a source of Münster pride. Skulptur Projekte has also diversified, with artists ranging from Nairy Baghramian to Hito Steyerl among the 2017 edition’s participants. Münster may still not be of equal stature to Berlin, Munich, Cologne, or Frankfurt, but König has turned the city into a hub on the biennial circuit, and each edition now attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors.
“Curatorial ignorance” and “myopia” pervade the ways that African art is exhibited, Koyo Kouoh told ARTnews in 2019. Her goal has, in part, been to offer a retort to this lack with thoughtful exhibitions of African art often created by collaborative means. “We are talking to ourselves now, which is where the real discussions begin,” she told Artforum in 2016. In the early 2000s, having grown dissatisfied with Europe’s scene, the Cameroon-born curator moved to Dakar, Senegal, and soon became an integral member of the West African art scene. With Simon Njami, she curated two editions of the preeminent African photography biennial Bamako Encounters, in 2001 and 2003. Five years later, in 2008, she formed RAW Material Company, an arts space in Dakar intended to fill a perceived gap in critical discourse in the country. It has historically been managed and staffed by women.
Over the past fifteen years, Kouoh’s curatorial practice has found an audience beyond Africa. She served as a curatorial adviser on two editions of Documenta (in 2007 and 2012), she curated the 2016 edition of the EVA International biennial in Limerick, Ireland, and she organized an acclaimed survey of the Senegalese artist Issa Samb for the Office for Contemporary Art in Norway in 2013. Yet she has ascended in Africa, too, and now she directs one of its top institutions, the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary African Art in Cape Town, where she has organized exhibitions featuring work by Tracey Rose, Otobong Nkanga, and more.
Lucy R. Lippard
Lucy Lippard literally wrote the history of Conceptualism with her 1973 book Six Years: The Dematerialization of the Art Object from 1966 to 1972, which traced a turn toward ideas over aesthetics in the work of artists such as Robert Morris, Lee Lozano, and Vito Acconci. Describing the movement as “very much a product of, or fellow traveler with, the political ferment of the times,” she considered a particularly experimental moment within art history and altered the discipline in the process. So influential was the book that, in 2012, it was the subject of an exhibition (“Materializing ‘Six Years’: Lucy R. Lippard and the Emergence of Conceptual Art”) at the Brooklyn Museum. The book had its roots in an exhibition: “557,087,” a show Lippard organized at the Seattle Art Museum in 1969 that is considered the first-ever survey of Conceptual art.
An activist in addition to a curator, Lippard fought hard for anti-war and feminist causes around the same time, and got involved in groups such as the Art Workers’ Coalition, Ad Hoc Women Artists, the Heresies Collective, and Women’s Art Coalition. Since then, she has taught at the School of Visual Arts in New York, Williams College, the University of Queensland in Australia, and other institutions. In 1976, she founded Printed Matter, a New York–based organization dedicated to publications by artists. She has continued curating as well, organizing a May Stevens survey at the SITE Santa Fe museum in 2021.
Few have campaigned as hard for the importance of video art as Barbara London, whose 40-year career at the Museum of Modern Art in New York allowed her to write the history of that medium. During the ’70s, when just a handful of people thought of video as an artistic medium, London got to work, staging presentations of key works by Nam June Paik, Bill Viola, and Shigeko Kubota. Then, in 1983, London curated “Video Art: A History,” which assembled an array of figures, from Joan Jonas to Tony Oursler, who had pioneered the medium, effectively creating the first comprehensive document of such a lineage. (In 2020, London compiled that history into a book, Video/Art: The First 50 Years.)
And sound art has also been a key part of London’s curatorial practice. In 2013, she curated MoMA’s first major survey of works made in the medium, “Soundings: A Contemporary Score.” “People in museums drift along from one work to another,” London told ARTnews in 2013. “Our goal is to make them slow down and really listen.”
In 2009, Paris’s Centre Pompidou sent shockwaves through the art world with the exhibition “elles@pompidou,” for which the museum filled its walls with works by more than 200 women artists, from Frida Kahlo to Annette Messager. There had been shows like it elsewhere in the West, but rarely on such a scale. Critics perceived the Pompidou exhibition as long-overdue recognition of the critical role women played in art history.
But the curator of the show, Camille Morineau, was firm about that exhibition being only the start of a larger project. “The Pompidou, like many other museums, is known for its under-representation of women artists,” she told the Guardian. “Now, for one year, they are representing them. Does this make up for all those years of discrimination? No.”
Institutions have heeded her words: the Museum of Modern Art, the Museum of Fine Arts Boston, the Baltimore Museum of Art, the Museu de Arte de São Paulo, and more have centered women in their permanent collection hangs. Meanwhile, in 2014, Morineau continued her own initiative with the formation of the Archives of Women Artists, Research, and Exhibitions (AWARE), which has created an online database of artists from the 19th and 20th centuries. From 2016 to 2019, she directed the art program of La Monnaie de Paris.
Within the past five years alone, Gabi Ngcobo has been at the helm of not one but two major international biennials—the Bienal de São Paulo in 2016 and the Berlin Biennale in 2018. But before Ngcobo led those biennials, she rose to fame in South Africa, her home country. After curating the Cape Town Biennial in 2007, she organized two initiatives—Nothing Gets Organised (NGO), a politically minded project run by her and artists Dineo Seshee Bopape and Sinethemba Twalo, and the Center for Historical Reenactments, which Ngcobo formed with Sohrab Mohebbi and which seeks to understand how historical legacies inform new artworks.
Then, in 2015, with Yvette Mutumba, she organized one of the biggest surveys of South African art ever, “A Labour of Love,” at the Weltkulturen Museum in Frankfurt, Germany. In shows and projects like these, Ngcobo has powerfully shown that art and politics are inseparable. This proposal was borne out in the 2018 Berlin Biennale, which featured artworks by Firelei Baez, Tony Cokes, Las Nietas de Nonó, Mario Pfeifer, and focused on the effects of racism and colonialism.
Over the past two decades, Simon Njami has worked tirelessly to shape and reshape how African art is seen. Having began his career as a writer, publishing several novels during the 1980s, Njami shifted his focus to art during the ’90s when he founded Revue Noire, an important Paris-based journal dedicated primarily to work by African artists. He had his breakthrough with the blockbuster 2004 exhibition “Africa Remix,” which set out to tell the story of African contemporary art through work by people such as Yto Barrada, Samuel Fosso, Meschac Gaba, David Goldblatt, Abdoulaye Kanaté, Wangechi Mutu, Barthélémy Toguo, and more. Only shows by Okwui Enwezor had matched it in ambition. When it opened at the Museum Kunstpalast in Düsseldorf, the show became a hit, and it later traveled to venues such as the Moderna Museet in Stockholm, the Centre Pompidou in Paris, and the Johannesburg Art Gallery, where 28,000 visitors reportedly came—a record at the time.
Njami’s essential work on African art has continued in the form of various biennials and initiatives connected to art fairs. He has overseen editions of Bamako Encounters in Mali, the Dak’Art Biennial for Contemporary African Art in Senegal, the Luanda Triennial in Angola, the Lubumbashi Triennial in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and the Salon Urbain de Douala in Cameroon, as well as the first-ever African Pavilion at the Venice Biennale in 2007. “The future is certainly in Africa,” he told Apollo in 2020.
Hans Ulrich Obrist
Looming large in the international art world, Hans Ulrich Obrist helped define the type of jet-setting curator that so many aspire to be today. Through an array of exhibitions, books, and programs, Obrist, artistic director at the Serpentine Galleries in London, has assembled a vast network of artists that has included everyone from Etel Adnan to Jordan Wolfson to the late Luchita Hurtado. On his social media, he often posts their many messages to him, allowing his followers a look behind the scenes.
Throughout his career, Obrist has curated more than 300 exhibitions, though before he hit it big, he began organizing shows in his own home. By connecting himself to the day’s top artists, he formed ties that have lasted throughout his career. By the end of the ’90s, he had served as curator of the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris and organized the first edition of the roving Manifesta biennial (which took place in Rotterdam in 1996). Later on, he oversaw “Utopia Station” at the 2003 Venice Biennale, and in 2005, he headed to the Serpentine Galleries, where he furthered his ambitious vision by mounting marathon-style events, some of which lasted 24 hours.
In addition to all this, Obrist has served as a senior program advisor at the Shed in New York. He’s also known for his lecturing, interviewing, and writing practices. His books include Ways of Curating (2014), A Brief History of Curating (2008), and Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Curating But Were Afraid to Ask (2015).
In a 2020 interview with ARTnews, art historian Julia Bryan-Wilson labeled the Museu de Arte de São Paulo, where she serves as adjunct curator, “the most progressive and dynamic museum in the world right now.” A lot of that was thanks to Adriano Pedrosa, who became MASP’s artistic director in 2014. Prior to that, he had gained a reputation for his rigorous international biennials held in locales such as São Paulo, Istanbul, and San Juan. But at MASP, he began receiving greater attention for his “Histórias” exhibitions, which aim to reposition everything we think we know about art history, making it more inclusive in the process.
The first in the series, “Histórias Mestiças,” held at the Instituto Tomie Ohtake in 2014, focused on the mixing of races in the New World colonies of Spain and Portugal as a way to complicate Brazilian history. “Histórias Afro-Atlanticas,” which debuted at MASP in 2018, received universal praise—both in Brazil and far beyond it—for its bracing look at the role that the Transatlantic Slave Trade had played in art-making over the centuries. (That show is still traveling, and is expected to eventually come to the Museum of Fine Arts Houston and the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.) Other “Histórias” shows have focused on feminism, dance, indigeneity, and sexuality. “The political dimension of this is very much present,” Pedrosa told ARTnews in 2020.
Hoor Al Qasimi
The founder and director of the Sharjah Art Foundation in the United Arab Emirates, Hoor Al Qasimi is widely credited with helping to grow Sharjah’s contemporary art scene, making it an important stop for the international art world. In 2003, she served as co-curator for Sharjah Biennial, established by her father in 1993. In the years since, she has taken the helm of the exhibition, transforming it into one of the most closely watched shows of its kind for the cutting-edge art it presents. Its 15th edition, scheduled to open in 2023 and conceived by the late Okwui Enwezor, will enlist 30 artists to create new work.
Some of Al Qasimi’s other curatorial credits include “Hassan Sharif: I Am The Single Work Artist” (2017), “Rasheed Araeen: Before and After Minimalism” (2014), and “Yayoi Kusama: Dot Obsession” (2016). In 2020, she served curator of the second Lahore Biennale in Pakistan, which carried the title “between the sun and the moon” and included the work of some 80 artists.
In a 2020 ARTnews profile of Al Qasimi, curator Christine Tohmé said, “Hoor has an unwavering commitment to her local context above all others. The Sharjah Art Foundation may have established itself in the international arena, but it remains deeply rooted in and committed to the people of Sharjah.”
Mari Carmen Ramírez
Mari Carmen Ramírez joined the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston in 2001 with the aim of growing its Latin American art department and collection, which has come to include works by Hélio Oiticica, Joaquín Torres-García, Lygia Clark, Carlos Cruz-Diez, and Gego, as well as important U.S. Latinx artists like Daniel Joseph Martinez, Luis Jiménez, Amalia Mesa-Bains, and Teresa Margolles, among others. Currently, Ramírez is the institution’s curator of Latin American art and director of its International Center for the Arts of the Americas.
Discussing her tenure at the MFAH, Ramírez said in a 2021 interview with ARTnews, “When I started, the museum’s identity was still not fully defined, so Latin American art could bring something special to that identity. The fact that we’ve been able to build such an ambitious collection in such a short time speaks to that ambition to really place the museum in a strategic position of leadership.” Prior to starting at the MFAH, Ramírez was curator of Latin American Art at the Blanton Museum of Art at the University of Texas at Austin and director of the Museum of Anthropology at the University of Puerto Rico in San Juan.
Among her most celebrated exhibitions was the 2004 presentation “Inverted Utopias: Avant-Garde Art in Latin America” at the MFAH, which she co-curated with Héctor Olea. That show succeeded in reorienting the history of Latin American art by placing the spotlight on artists from Brazil, Argentina, and Venezuela who had been under-recognized in the U.S. “There can be watershed moments, and for me, ‘Inverted Utopias’ signaled a shift in perceptions within the field,” curator Olga Viso told the New York Times in 2008.
Lowery Stokes Sims
Since the 1970s, Lowery Stokes Sims has been one of the most prominent curators working in the United States. In 1972, she joined the staff of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, working in the the department of community programs, and then, in 1975, joined the museum’s 20th-century art department as a curator. At the Met, she centered the work of artists of color at a time when few curators at major art museums where doing so, and she is credited with bringing works by Robert Colescott, Faith Ringgold, Adrian Piper, and others into the Met’s collection. She also organized exhibitions on the work of Ellsworth Kelly, Stuart Davis, Richard Pousette-Dart, Paul Cadmus, and Hans Hofmann.
After nearly 30 years working at the Met, Sims left the institution to become director of the Studio Museum in Harlem in 2000, where she recruited Thelma Golden to be her deputy director for exhibitions and programs. When Sims took the helm of the Studio Museum, “It was a moment when a lot of those organizations were approaching thirty, thirty-five years,” she once said in an interview. “The art world had kind of caught up with them in terms of diversity, so people were asking us, ‘Do you still need a Studio Museum?’ And we said, ‘Yes.’ We needed an institution that was looking after our community twenty-four-seven, instead of just in February when you have Black History Month.”
Sims stepped down as director in 2005 and served as the museum’s president from 2006 to 2007. That year, she joined the Museum of Arts and Design as a curator, where she worked until 2015. Throughout her career, Sims has also organized exhibitions at the National Gallery in Kingston, Jamaica, the Cleveland Museum of Art, and the New York Historical Society, among other venues. Some of her many publications include Art and Race Matters: The Career of Robert Colescott (2019), Common Wealth: Art by African Americans in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (2015), and Stuart Davis: American Painter (1991). Her dissertation on Wifredo Lam was published in 2002 by University of Texas Press.
Over the past several years, American curator Zoé Whitley has established herself as a force to be reckoned with in the British art world. In 2020, Whitley was named the director of Chisenhale Gallery, an alternative space in London, after having held curatorial posts at several other important institutions in the British capital, including the Hayward Gallery, Tate Modern, and Tate Britain.
Her most prominent exhibition to date was the 2017 traveling survey “Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power,” organized with Mark Godfrey, that helped bring renewed attention to the important contributions of Black American artists working in the 1960s and ’70s, including Barkley L. Hendricks, Faith Ringgold, William T. Williams, Melvin Edwards, and Emma Amos, among many others. Other notable curatorial credits include the 2013 exhibition “The Shadows Took Shape” at the Studio Museum in Harlem and the British pavilion at the 2019 Venice Biennale, which showcased work by artist Cathy Wilkes.
In a 2021 interview with Aesthetica Magazine, Whitley described her duties at Chisenhale Gallery: “On any given day, I’m an artist’s cheerleader, advocate and interpreter, a fundraiser, a goal-setter and a colleague. My role, very enjoyably, involves a lot of talking!”