In 2016’s turbulent social and political climate, the exhibitions that resonated did not shy away from the fraught issues of our times. Informed by the insights of Artsy’s editors, and bolstered by data from UBS’s art news app Planet Art, the curators of these shows emerged as making the most impact on the institutional landscape this year. Presented here in no specific order, these curators created shows that reflected the nuances of human experience in today’s world, expanded the parameters of art, or engaged in revisionist histories, redressing systemic biases and enabling us to see past and present art practices anew. Many of those on the list also put the artist first, empowering creatives to do what they do best—helping us to see our realities, and each other, more clearly.
Sackler Family Curator for the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art, Brooklyn Museum
Curator, “A Year of Yes: Reimagining Feminism at the Brooklyn Museum,” New York
Portrait of Catherine Morris at the Brooklyn Museum by Daniel Dorsa for Artsy.
In a year that has seen overdue emphasis on the work of female artists, Morris coordinated a feminist takeover of the Brooklyn Museum, a series of exhibitions titled “A Year of Yes: Reimagining Feminism at the Brooklyn Museum.” Organized to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the institution’s Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art, the project took on a particular urgency as heated discussions about gender and racial equality in the U.S. roiled through this year’s election season. A highlight of the takeover is a groundbreaking exhibition, curated by Jennifer Burris and Park McArthur, of work by the little-known artist
’s acclaimed retrospective to the museum, where it will remain open until April 2, 2017, from the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston. “Catherine is a dream to work with and fought so hard for me at the museum,” Minter says. “She is responsible for expanding my retrospective to be the size it is. She is tenacious and supportive in all the best ways. The Brooklyn Museum is lucky to have a feminist advocate like her.” At the Brooklyn Museum, Morris has co-curated numerous other shows of work by visionary women, including
, as well as the award-winning “Materializing ‘Six Years’: Lucy R. Lippard and the Emergence of Conceptual Art.” In her earlier work as an independent curator, she organized several shows that touched on feminist practices of the 1970s.
Curator, 32nd Bienal de São Paulo
Photo: Sofia Colucci / Fundação Bienal de São Paulo, courtesy of Serpentine Galleries
This year, as political turmoil in Brazil reached a fever pitch and the country readied itself for the Olympics, German curator Volz was leading a team of curators organizing the 32nd Bienal de São Paulo. The widely acclaimed biennial opened just eight days after Brazil’s president Dilma Rousseff was ousted from power, and echoes of the instability and anxiety felt across the country pulsed through the exhibition, titled “Live Uncertainty.” Having spent eight years at the helm of Instituto Inhotim in Minas Gerais, Brazil (just north of Rio de Janeiro), from 2004–2012, Volz has a deep knowledge of contemporary Brazilian art, experience that he leveraged to bring together a powerfully evocative group of works that often meditated on the environment and indigenous cultures, conveying a longing for simpler, agrarian lifestyles.
Between 2012 and 2015, Volz served as Head of Programmes for London’s Serpentine Galleries, where he oversaw exhibitions by
, among others. He also served as artistic organizer of the 53rd Venice Biennale, alongside artistic director Daniel Birnbaum, in 2009, and will curate the Brazilian Pavilion for the 57th Venice Biennale next year. Over the course of his career, he has curated presentations of work by artists from
Several weeks after “Made in L.A.” closed in the summer, Walker announced that he’d be leaving his position at the Renaissance Society and relocating to L.A. to lead the city’s nonprofit art space LAXART. True to form, he accepted the position with an allusion to his wide-ranging, inclusive tastes in art: “I can’t get Sun Ra’s Fate in a Pleasant Mood out of my mind,” he explained, comparing his excitement to take on the new role to afrofuturist Sun Ra’s jazz album—one that, like much of the art that Walker champions, deserves a more pronounced place in our cultural history.
Chief Curator, MOCA LA
Co-curator, “Kerry James Marshall: Mastry,” Chicago and New York
Portrait of Helen Molesworth by Myles Pettengill. Courtesy of The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles.
Along with Dieter Roelstraete and Ian Alteveer, Molesworth curated one of the most widely acclaimed shows of the year:
Molesworth also drew praise earlier in the year for rehanging the MOCA LA collection, in “The Art of Our Time,” according to a revisionist, feminist perspective. And she’ll continue her feminist influence on the art world in the coming years through an emphasis on female solo shows. Prior to MOCA LA, Molesworth worked at ICA Boston, and before that, at the Harvard Art Museum. She has also guest-curated shows at SFMOMA and MCA Chicago, including, at the latter, the celebrated “This Will Have Been: Art, Love & Politics in the 1980s” in 2012. “Helen is one of that elite band of curators with clarity of vision, the deepest intellect, and the lightest touch,” Marshall says. “That’s why she almost always gets what she wants.”
Senior Curator, International Art (Performance), Tate Modern
Curator, inaugural Switch House performances, London
Portrait of Catherine Wood by Hugo Glendinning. Courtesy of Tate.
Since 2003, when Wood played an instrumental role in launching Tate’s performance program, the senior curator has organized more than 200 live works for the museum by artists ranging from
. And with this year’s June opening of the Switch House, Tate Modern’s newest exhibition space, Wood has taken further steps to highlight performance art within the institutional narrative. During its celebratory opening days, the museum showcased five performances from its collection, acquired over the past decade—among them,
’s iconic meditation on state power Tatlin’s Whisper #5 (2008), in which two police officers on horseback ride through the gallery (in the Tate’s case, the vast Turbine Hall), performing pointless crowd-control exercises.
Wood will play a key role in the programming for the Switch House’s two underground galleries (known as The Tanks), which are dedicated specifically to performance art. Beyond the Switch House, Wood’s year looks to be wrapping up with a blockbuster. She had a hand in the Robert Rauschenberg retrospective at the Tate Modern opening this month, which includes a sampling of the American artist’s performance-based works. The show has already garnered several five-star reviews and been labeled the “exhibition of the year” by the Telegraph—a strong end to a strong year for the Tate Modern’s performance program.
Deputy Director and Chief Curator, M+ Hong Kong
Curator, “Tsang Kin-Wah: Nothing,” Hong Kong
Portrait of Doryun Chong courtesy of the West Kowloon Cultural District Authority.
Those eagerly anticipating the 2019 opening of Hong Kong’s next art museum behemoth, M+, got a first glimpse into its program with the launch of its smaller sister institution, M+ Pavilion, this year. The Pavilion is the first building to go up in the West Kowloon Cultural District since the area was designated an arts hub. And the opening show, a solo exhibition of work by Hong Konger artist
, suggests that they can look forward to explorations of the region’s local talent, as well as international art. The exhibition was curated by Chong and Stella Fong, the museum’s Lead Curator of Learning and Interpretation, the same team behind Hong Kong’s presentation at the 56th Venice Biennale, which also featured Tsang’s work.
A prolific curator, Chong has held positions at New York’s MoMA—where he organized “Tokyo 1955–1970: A New Avant-Garde” (2012) and co-edited From Postwar to Postmodern, Art in Japan, 1945–1989: Primary Documents, a groundbreaking collection of source materials, among other projects—the Walker Art Center, and San Francisco’s Asian Art Museum. He has also coordinated exhibitions at L.A.’s REDCAT and the Korea Pavilion at the 2001 Venice Biennale, among other spaces.
Director and Curator, Kunsthalle Basel
Curator, “Yngve Holen: VERTICALSEAT” and “Anne Imhof: Angst,” Basel
Portrait of Elena Filipovic by Zlatko Micic. Courtesy of Kunsthalle Basel.
during Art Basel confirmed director and curator of Kunsthalle Basel Filipovic’s position as one of the most daring and thoughtful curators of emerging art today. Holen’s presentation “VERTICALSEAT” was the Norwegian-German artist’s largest to date. Through an elegant but arresting installation of sculptures, Filipovic shone a powerful light on the artist’s timely practice, which explores relationships between humans and the technologies we create. The most poignant works in the show, created specifically for the Kunsthalle, saw Holen dissect made-made objects, like a Porsche Panamera, as a surgeon would a human body.
Indeed, in her two years leading the Kunsthalle, Los Angeles-born Filipovic has not only transformed the institution’s program but also the careers of artists she’s championed, from Holen and Imhof to
. Her strategy: long-term and concentrated engagement with artists and support of their most visionary ideas, which often taken the form of never-before-seen commissions. It’s an approach she’s practiced throughout her career; before taking the reins at the Kunsthalle, she organized shows with the likes of
, and co-curated the influential 5th Berlin Biennale with Adam Szymczyk.
Artistic Director, the New Museum and the Fondazione Nicola Trussardi
Co-curator, “The Keeper,” New York
Portrait of Massimiliano Gioni at the New Museum by Alex John Beck for Artsy.
Gioni’s long-standing interest in objects outside of the traditional scope of the art world defined his standout show of 2016: “The Keeper” at the New Museum, where he has served as artistic director since 2014. The over 4,000-object exhibition, the largest in the institution’s history, offered up a fascinating and evocative series of collections—ranging from the whimsical (photographs of people with their teddy bears) to the devastating (a collection of still lifes created in a concentration camp). A similar guiding interest surfaced in his 2013 Venice Biennale show, “The Encyclopedic Palace,” which brought together artists working outside the art establishment and contemporary heavyweights in an exhibition that garnered consistent praise. At 39 years old, he was the Biennale’s youngest artistic director in over a century.
at the New Museum (serendipitously timed, as the artist received a MacArthur “genius” grant in the fall of 2015), along with his colleague Helga Christoffersen. He curated a summer survey show of young Greek artists at the Benaki Museum in Athens with Christoffersen and Gary Carrion-Murayari. And to top it off, Gioni also serves as artistic director for the Fondazione Nicola Trussardi in Milan; this April, he and Vincenzo de Bellis presented a site-specific work by British artist
Independent Curator and Founding Artistic Director, RAW Material Company
Curator, “EVA International: Still (the) Barbarians,” Ireland
Portrait of Koyo Kouoh by Antoine Tempé. Courtesy of RAW Material Company, Dakar Senegal.
Kouoh has made it her life’s work to bring African artists and practices of the diaspora into international focus. In the past five years, she has been tapped by the European Union and the Senegalese Ministry of Culture to reform the Dakar Biennial and to advise on the curatorial direction of “dOCUMENTA 13.” But this year was an especially notable one for the Dakar-based curator. Kouoh not only maintained the thoughtful, community-engaged program of Dakar’s RAW Material Company, the cultural center that she founded, but also organized 2016’s powerful edition of the biennial EVA International in Ireland, “Still (the) Barbarians,” as well as a vital program of talks among art-world thought leaders at 1:54 African Art Fair.
For “Still (the) Barbarians,” Kouoh connected her deep knowledge of diasporic practices to Ireland’s own cultural and political history, which this year celebrated 100 years since the Easter Rising, a significant episode in Ireland’s struggle for freedom from British rule. By drawing artists such as
, and Võ Trân Châu together, she presented a rich landscape of practices that explore colonialism’s continued effects on systemic racism, international politics, and personal identity. 1:54’s FORUM approached the subject from a more specific viewpoint, bringing together African creatives of various disciplines—from artists and designers to architects and writers—to discuss how different mediums and approaches can come together to shift cultural perspectives.
Director, Hayward Gallery
Curator, “The Infinite Mix: Contemporary Sound and Video,” London
Portrait of Ralph Rugoff by Marc Atkins. Courtesy of Hayward Gallery, London.
Rugoff’s expansive approach to curating first drew attention during his five-year run as director of San Francisco’s CCA Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts in the early 2000s. But it’s been at London’s Hayward Gallery, where he’s served as director since 2006, that he’s really let his curatorial freak flag fly. In his 10 years at the venue, he’s transformed it into a platform for both ambitious solo shows by artists working in experiential modes (performance, light, and interactive sculpture) and definitive group exhibitions. Case in point: this year’s “The Infinite Mix,” which brought together 10 immersive works fusing sound and moving image under the sprawling roof of London’s experimental space The Store.
Rugoff’s installation gave era-defining projects by the likes of
the space and sound systems they deserve. The spellbinding presentation emphasized the powerful messages behind the works. Since his early days as LA Weekly’s art critic, Ralph Rugoff has championed this wide-angled view of art—one that embraces self-taught practices, undiscovered artists, and numerous mediums, from sound to elephantine installation to micro-miniature sculpture.
Curator, MASS MoCA
Curator, “Alex Da Corte,” North Adams, Massachusetts
Portrait of Susan Cross courtesy of MASS MoCA.
This year, Cross gave the young, Philadelphia-based artist
his first museum survey show at MASS MoCA, a sprawling museum in the small town of North Adams, Massachusetts, resulting in one of the most talked-about exhibitions of the year. Da Corte’s neon-strung, candy-colored environment was filled with a mesmerizing cohort of the artist’s videos and sculptures—everyday objects that the artist dissects and manipulates to address our contemporary obsession with branded, mass-produced items. As is now tradition among artists brought into Cross’s program, Da Corte also forged a site-specific installation for the large inner-sanctum of the show.
For Cross, Da Corte’s exhibition follows a long line of first-time and unprecedentedly ambitious museum shows she’s organized for contemporary artists that serve to launch their careers to new heights. Her first at MASS MoCA, where she arrived in 2006 from the Guggenheim, was a stunning display of
’sexperimental, cinematic meditation on the revolutionary Chinese poet and feminist Qiu Jin at Spring Workshop was one of the hit exhibitions during Art Basel in Hong Kong this past March. The site-specific installation, comprised of a film and sculptures, was the product of two three-month residencies and developed with the help of Spring Workshop director Li. The curator worked closely with Wu to facilitate the film’s production, assisting in translating Qiu’s texts from Chinese. Based in Hong Kong and the Netherlands, Li has led the Spring Workshop since 2015, overseeing the nonprofit’s highly respected artist and curatorial residencies and exhibition program.
The cross-disciplinary Li is also a founder, along with artist, curator, and writer Heman Chong, of a series of short story collections titled Stationary; and is on the founding team of Kunsthalle for Music (KfM), a project led by artist and composer Ari Benjamin Meyers, which will be presented at Spring Workshop and Witte de With in 2017. Li was the assistant curator of the 2009 Hong Kong Pavilion at the 53rd Venice Biennale, and she previously worked as a curator of Para/Site Art Space in Hong Kong.
Manilow Senior Curator, Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago
Curator, “Electronic Superhighway (2016–1966),” London
Portrait of Omar Kholeif by Maria Ponce. Courtesy of Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago.
Kholeif’s much-anticipated tour through five decades of internet and
, “Electronic Superhighway” at London’s Whitechapel Gallery, opened earlier this year. It is one of very few shows to have historicized contemporary digital practices within a lineage that began with digital pioneer
who coined the term “electronic superhighway.” Kholeif’s exhibition was also a welcome answer to a relative dearth of shows about art and internet in the U.K. Critics generally agreed that the exhibition excelled in its historical section, featuring early, under-recognized visionaries like
from the Deutsche Bank KunstHalle in Berlin to Chicago. He also curated the 2015 Cyprus Pavilion at the 56th Venice Biennale and the 2015 Armory Show Focus section, where he presented work by artists from the Middle East, North Africa, and the Mediterranean, showcasing his deep knowledge of the Global South. He previously worked as senior visiting curator at HOME Manchester, senior editor at Ibraaz, and is a prolific writer for numerous publications.
Lowery Stokes Sims
Independent Curator and Curator Emerita, Museum of Arts and Design
Co-curator, “Home, Memory, and Future,” New York
Portrait of Lowery Stokes Sims at the Studio Museum in Harlem by Emily Johnston for Artsy.
Despite retiring from her position as chief curator of New York’s Museum of Arts and Design in 2015, after seven and a half years, Sims has shown little sign of slowing down. This year, at a time when issues of migration and displacement are at the forefront of global geopolitics, Sims co-curated the poignant inaugural exhibition at Caribbean Cultural Center African Diaspora Institute’s new space in East Harlem. Titled “Home, Memory, and Future,” it brought together historical and contemporary Latino and African Diaspora artists whose work touches on those salient themes. “Her curatorial work does not only move the soul, it also inspires us to think and act,” says Dr. Marta Moreno-Vega, founder and president of CCCADI. In 2016 Sims also appeared on numerous panels, continuing her lifelong work advocating for artists of color.
. “I met Lowery Stokes Sims sometime in the 1970s and we became bi-coastal friends,” Saar says. “While the art world was insisting that art by black artists was non-existent, Lowery was our shining light of validity.”
Department Head and Curator, Wallis Annenberg Photography Department and the Department of Prints and Drawings, LACMA
Curator, “Robert Mapplethorpe: The Perfect Medium,” Los Angeles
Portrait of Britt Salvesen by Zach Lipp. Courtesy of Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
is having a moment—and Salvesen is partly to thank. She curated LACMA’s half of the provocative photographer’s two-museum retrospective, “The Perfect Medium,” with a focus on the artist’s earliest projects (including pre-photography works in mediums such as collage, jewelry, and drawing). Paul Martineau curated the other half for the Getty, highlighting Mapplethorpe’s connections to classical sculpture and art-historical themes. These simultaneous exhibitions aided in the continuing canonization of an artist whose legacy has long been mired in the Culture Wars of the 1980s. And they will do so beyond the confines of Los Angeles as well: “The Perfect Medium” will travel internationally to three museums over the next several years.
Since she joined LACMA in 2009, Salvesen has headed two departments: Photography, and Prints and Drawings. But through her involvement with a series of wide-ranging exhibitions for the museum—including this year’s “Guillermo del Toro: At Home with Monsters,” which explored the Mexican filmmaker’s creative process, and 2014’s “Haunted Screens: German Cinema in the 1920s”—Salvesen has shown a dedication to weaving film and broader visual culture into her curatorial practice, as well.
Director, Moderna Museet
Co-curator, “Hilma af Klint: Painting the Unseen,” London
Portrait of Daniel Birnbaum by åsa lundén. Courtesy of Moderna Museet.
The Serpentine’s revelatory retrospective of work by the Swedish artist
(1862–1944), curated by Birnbaum of Sweden’s Moderna Museet and the Serpentine’s Emma Enderby (now a curator for Public Art Fund), might have been one of the most widely covered exhibitions of the year. In a year that saw the world engage almost feverishly in revisionist histories, none could be more impressive than the story of a female artist who, working independently from any of her male peers and at a remove from the art world, was developing a mystical abstract style all her own in the early 1900s, several years earlier than Kandinsky. Though af Klint didn’t always excel at the task, arguably lacking the virtuosity of the canonical artists that came after her, the show posed a considerable challenge to received art history, framing her as something of an unknown forerunner to the 20th century’s Modernist greats.
Birnbaum also co-curated “Life Itself,” with artist
and curator Jo Widoff, a show that grappled with the highly ambitious question of what constitutes life on earth. The group presentation gathered together over 40 artists spanning almost 100 years. Birnbaum has been the director of the Moderna Museet since 2010, and previously served as co-curator of the international section of the 50th Venice Biennale and director of the 53rd Venice Biennale, among other positions.
Christopher Y. Lew
Nancy and Fred Poses Associate Curator, Whitney Museum of American Art
Curator, “Open Plan: Lucy Dodd” and “Sophia Al-Maria: Black Friday,” New York
Portrait of Christopher Y. Lew at the Whitney Museum of American Art by Emily Johnston for Artsy.
Since joining the Whitney Museum from MoMA PS1 in 2014, Lew has ushered a younger generation of artists into the museum’s program. Leveraging his deep knowledge of New York artists, as well as those further afield, he has built on his work at PS1 by giving an institutional platform to emerging artists and exploring contemporary American art from a more international perspective. This year at the Whitney, that has meant giving an entire floor of the museum over to American artist
, who continued her experiments with what she calls “Gulf Futurism.” Titled Black Friday (2016), Al-Maria’s awe-inspiring multimedia installation meditated on the vertiginous mashup of consumerism, religious conservatism, and environmental damage in Gulf nation states as embodied in Arab renditions of the American mall.
This year Lew also co-curated “Mirror Cells,” a group show of work by emerging artists Liz Craft, Rochelle Goldberg, Elizabeth Jaeger, Maggie Lee, and Win McCarthy; last year, he brought popular presentations of work by
Leonard A. Lauder Chairman for Modern and Contemporary Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Co-curator, “Unfinished: Thoughts Left Visible” and “Nasreen Mohamedi,” New York
Portrait of Sheena Wagstaff at the Met Breuer by Daniel Dorsa for Artsy.
The Metropolitan Museum launched its takeover of the Marcel Breuer-designed building that formerly housed the Whitney—the new home of its expanded modern and contemporary program—to considerable fanfare earlier this year. Heading up that effort, Sheena Wagstaff led a team of curators who brought together over 190 works of extraordinary art spanning 550 years for its ambitious inaugural exhibition, “Unfinished: Thoughts Left Visible.” Simultaneously, the museum opened an acclaimed solo show of work by the Indian Modernist
followed soon after, arriving at the Met Breuer in the fall.
Wagstaff came to the Met from the Tate, where she worked for over 14 years, first serving as Tate Britain’s head of exhibitions and displays, then as Tate Modern’s chief curator. She was hired by former Tate director Nicholas Serota after working as his assistant during his tenure as director of the Museum of Modern Art Oxford. At the Tate Modern, Wagstaff worked to bring a more international lens to the museum’s explorations of modern and contemporary art, priming her for a leadership position at the Met, which intends to shake up the Eurocentrism of the modern and contemporary canon.
Curator, Palais de Tokyo
Curator, “Carte blanche to Tino Sehgal,” Paris
Portrait of Rebecca Lamarche-Vadel by Thomas Jeppe. Courtesy of Palais de Tokyo.
carte blanche to take over Paris’s Palais de Tokyo this past fall, and the show quickly became a favorite among FIAC-bound fairgoers. Sehgal’s largest project to date, the exhibition corralled his best-known performances, which include some 300 performers, in the Palais de Tokyo’s vast space along with the work of six other contemporary artists. Despite the inclusion of historical works, Lamarche-Vadel has insisted the show is not a retrospective, but rather represents the reincarnation of these works.
Last year, Lamarche-Vadel curated the provocative “Le Bord des Mondes” (“At the Edge of the Worlds”), which assembled collections of objects not typically considered to be art, asking us to reconsider what warrants a place in a museum. Lamarche-Vadel’s past shows at the Palais de Tokyo have included presentations of work by
. “Rebecca has been one of the driving forces behind some of the most interesting and encompassing exhibitions in the Palais de Tokyo since she began there five years ago,” says fellow curator and critic Francesca Gavin. “She has also had a very important effect on the display, promotion, and practices of younger artists in France.” Lamarche-Vadel began her curatorial life in Berlin, where her interest in experimental modes of exhibition-making led her to collaborate with underground art projects, such as the “Forgotten Bar Project” in Kreuzberg.
Curators, Berlin Biennale
Portrait of DIS by Julia Burlingham. Courtesy of DIS.
Few exhibitions were more room-splitting in 2016 than
’s 9th Berlin Biennale, “The Present in Drag.” Some reviewers of the New York-based collective’s biennale criticized it as a cynical and sarcastic, overly surface-oriented survey of a time whose crises and political upheavals call for somber and serious reflection. Others, for much the same reasons, heralded it as a tentpole show for our time, mirroring a less hierarchical contemporary culture in a way that more somber and serious art now sometimes does not. The show further solidified the place of young artists such as
with major installations, helping to spark their careers.
Founded in 2010, DIS is made of up four members, Lauren Boyle, Solomon Chase, Marco Roso, and David Toro. Before the Berlin Biennale, they were perhaps best known for DIS Magazine, an online publication that epitomizes the collective’s breaking-down of barriers between high art, fashion, pop culture, and music. (Other ongoing projects include stock image site DISimages and product line DISown.) DIS also maintains an active art practice, mounting a solo show at London’s Project Native Informant this year, in the leadup to the Berlin Biennale.
This feature is created in collaboration with UBS with data sourced from UBS’s art news app Planet Art. Planet Art provides a distilled look at contemporary news, reviews and information from the art world.