Guggenheim Hires First Full-Time Black Curator


At a time when museums all over the country are trying to increase the number of people of color on its staff, boards and walls, the Guggenheim Museum has hired its first full-time black curator: Ashley James.

Ms. James, who this week started on the job as the museum’s associate curator of contemporary art, was most recently an assistant curator of contemporary art at the Brooklyn Museum, where she was a moving force behind the acclaimed exhibition “Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power.”

“Her work complements the Guggenheim’s mission to present the art of today,” Nancy Spector, the Guggenheim’s artistic director and chief curator, said in a statement, “which we understand as a deep and expansive view of art history.”

Before coming to the Brooklyn Museum, Ms. James was a Mellon Curatorial Fellow in the Museum of Modern Art’s drawings and prints department, where she focused on retrospectives of the artists Adrian Piper and Charles White. Ms. James has also held positions at the Studio Museum in Harlem and the Yale University Art Gallery. In the spring, she will receive a Ph.D. from Yale in English Literature, African-American Studies, and women’s, gender and sexuality studies.

“I am eager to begin work with my colleagues to develop new research, explore new ideas for exhibitions, programs and publications,” Ms. James said in a statement, “and continue to expand and shape such a vital collection.”

The appointment coincides with recent frictions in the Guggenheim’s relationship with a guest curator, the art historian Chaédria LaBouvier, who organized the exhibition “Basquiat’s ‘Defacement’: The Untold Story.” Speaking up recently at a museum panel discussion, Ms. LaBouvier, who is black, accused the Guggenheim of snubbing her and undermining her curatorial role by, among other things, not inviting her to participate in the Guggenheim’s panel discussion about Basquiat with other scholars who had contributed to her own catalog. Last summer she told The New York Times that she was cut out of other decisions on how the exhibition was to be presented and that her research had been shortchanged.

Ms. LaBouvier was the first black female curator to organize a solo exhibition at the museum in its 80-year history. The independent Nigerian curator Okwui Enwezor was one of several organizers of a show on African photography in 1996 and the artists Carrie Mae Weems and Julie Mehretu are among six artist-curators in the current exhibition “Artistic License: Six Takes on the Guggenheim Collection,” running through January.

In a statement, the Guggenheim said, it “is proud to have presented the exhibition Basquiat’s “‘Defacement’: The Untold Story,” curated by Chaédria LaBouvier based upon her original and groundbreaking research.”


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