“I don’t think that ambition is different between men and women,” says Paola Antonelli, senior curator of the department of architecture and design at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. “I think opportunities are different between men and women.” Her words ring true even in the art world, where, despite the large proportion of women working in the field, men still overwhelmingly dominate the top posts. But Antonelli has earned a reputation for being one of the most influential curators working today—and a game-changer in expanding the canon of design.
At MoMA, she has curated innovative exhibitions unpacking design’s relationship to violence and the history of iconic items of clothing that have shaped the way we live. Under her direction, the museum acquired video games, the @ symbol, and emojis for its collection—each decision sparking both praise and controversy within and beyond the art world. She also leads the museum’s research and development program, a think tank and incubator that brings together leaders in the arts, design, and tech worlds to explore urgent issues and groundbreaking initiatives in their fields.
Her leadership has driven a vital conversation around the role of museums, and the accessibility of their collections. Where does her boldness come from? “The realization that I want to be influential,” she says. “What’s life about, after all, if you cannot really do something of influence?”