The Leading Curators of 2014, as Chosen by Art-World Insiders

Tess Thackara
Dec 18, 2014 8:10PM

Which curators have made waves in the art world this year? We polled Artsy’s art-world insiders for recommendations of 2014’s leading curators; the results reveal a list of individuals who are taking a revisionist approach to art history and addressing head-on the most urgent social and political issues of our time.

Anne Ellegood

Photo by Andre Vippolis

Formerly at the New Museum and the Hirshhorn, Anne Ellegood is now a senior curator at the Hammer Museum, where she produced “Take It or Leave It: Institution, Image, Ideology” this year (co-organized by Johanna Burton), a group show of artists whose appropriation techniques and institutional critique Ellegood and Burton feel changed the course of art, including Jenny Holzer, Barbara Kruger, Andrea Fraser, Mike Kelley, David Wojnarowicz, and Martha Rosler—notably redressing the male bias given to the history of institutional critique. 

Charles Esche

Photo by Judith Warringa


The director of the Van Abbemuseum in Eindhoven, Netherlands, with numerous accolades under his belt, Charles Esche co-curated the 2014 São Paulo Biennial this year and was the recipient of the 2014 Audrey Irmas Award for Curatorial Excellence. At the biennial, he led a team that took over Oscar Niemeyer’s famous pavilion with a show of 81 projects by over 100 artists—in total, some 250 artworks. Aiming to reflect the charged protests taking place on the streets of Brazil before and during the biennial, the show struck a socially and politically urgent note, with works addressing conflict in the Middle East, Russia, and within Brazil’s own borders. 

Juan Gaitán

Juan A. Gaitán, Curator 8th Berlin Biennial for Contemporary Art, Photo: Thomas Eugster, 2013

As curator of the 8th Berlin Biennial, Canadian-Colombian Juan Gaitán—formerly a curator at the Witte de With Center for Contemporary Art in Rotterdam and a professor at San Francisco’s California College of the Arts—juxtaposed presentations of contemporary art with historical artworks in museum settings in Berlin. Describing his curatorial concerns, Gaitán has said: “For me it has to do with what status the image has in contemporary life in terms of our political imagination: what the great mechanisms of representation are, and which are the great misrepresented or unrepresented aspects of social and political life.”

Massimiliano Gioni

Massimiliano Gioni with 1 Ton Crane Truck (2009) by Chris Burden, on view as part of “Chris Burden: Extreme Measures” (2013–14). Courtesy New Museum, New York. Photo: Jesse Untracht-Oakner

On the heels of last year’s success at the Venice Biennale, Massimiliano Gioni has gone from strength to strength this year at the helm of a phenomenal roster of exhibitions at New York’s New Museum. This year alone the museum has seen excellent shows from Camille Henrot, Pawel Althamer, Ragnar Kjartansson, and Chris Ofili—and a sprawling, nuanced, and incredibly timely group show of art related to the Middle East in “Here & Elsewhere.” 

Thelma Golden

Photo by Timothy Greenfield-Sanders

Spearheading the curatorial staff at the Studio Museum in Harlem, Thelma Golden continues to make the relatively small institution one of New York’s most interesting. This year alone, the Studio Museum has hosted strong solo shows from Carrie Mae Weems (coinciding with the Guggenheim’s Weems retrospective) and Charles Gaines, and a group show, “Radical Presence: Black Performance in Contemporary Art,” which subverts the white bias of performance and conceptual art histories, including works from Tameka Norris, Clifford Owens, and Jayson Musson (aka Hennessy Youngman), among others.

Jens Hoffmann 

Photo by Robert Adler

Following his tenure at the CCA Wattis Institute and numerous biennial appointments and other accolades, Jens Hoffmann is two years into his role as a deputy director at the Jewish Museum and already making a mark on the institution with shows like this year’s “Other Primary Structures.” Based on a groundbreaking 1966 exhibition of minimalist art, Hoffman’s update eschews the Western-centric approach to the subject, juxtaposing works from the original exhibition with those of artists from Latin America, Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and Eastern Europe. 

Gianni Jetzer

The former director of New York’s Swiss Institute who is set to become curator-at-large of the Hirshhorn Museum, Gianni Jetzer curated the acclaimed Unlimited sector at Art Basel this year, bringing a museum-quality presentation to the fair. He also curated Artadia’s 15th anniversary show, which featured work from the organization’s 285 award grantees.

Sarah McCrory 

A former curator of Frieze Projects at Frieze Art Fair—where she spotlighted DIS Magazine and Laure Prouvost, among others—Sarah McCrory was at the helm of this year’s acclaimed Glasgow International Festival, which included works from 150 artists representing 24 countries. Known for supporting the careers of emerging artists, Sarah McCrory will serve as a judge for the 2015 Converse/Dazed Emerging Artists Award, in association with London’s Royal Academy

Jessica Morgan

A curator of international art at the Tate who, it was recently announced, is set to head up New York’s Dia Art Foundation, Jessica Morgan has been described as an “incisive and globally minded curator.” This year she served as director of the acclaimed 2014 Gwangju Bienniale, which is considered one of the most important biennials in the world. 

Franklin Sirmans

Photo copyright 2013 Museum Associates/LACMA

This year LACMA’s department head and curator of contemporary art Franklin Sirmans led the charge for Prospect 3, New Orleans’s ailing biennial (which, it has now been announced, is turning into a triennial), which launched in 2008. Partly intended to help get the city back on its feet post-Katrina, the event opened to great fanfare 6 years ago, but has since been afflicted with spiralling costs. Representing 53 contemporary artists from near and far, Sirmans’s event this year makes a strong statement with a theme drawn from Walker Percy’s award-winning 1961 novel, The Moviegoer, whose protagonist wanders New Orleans, searching for his identity.

Philip Tinari

The director of Beijing’s cutting-edge space the Ullens Center for Contemporary Art and the curator of The Armory Show’s 2014 “Focus: China” section, Philip Tinari is helping to put the exponentially expanding Chinese art market on the map. “You have a few Chinese galleries that are regulars at the Friezes and at the Basels, but for every one of those there are five who are just almost at that level and who apply every year, and who go through that same experience of getting rejected,” he has said. “And that's because the big international fairs only have so much bandwidth for Asia, even today.”  

Tess Thackara