Ashley James named the first black full time curator at The Guggenheim Museum

James will take on the position of associate curator of contemporary arts

APPOINTED: Ashley James (Photo credit: Guggenheim Museum / Elle Pérez)

NEW YORK’S Guggenheim Museum has appointed Ashley James as their associate curator of contemporary art.

James, who will be graduating from Yale University in 2020, is the first black full-time curator to take on the post in its 80 year history, after opening its doors in 1959.

Speaking on her new role, James said: “I am eager to begin working with my colleagues to develop new research, explore new ideas for exhibitions, programs and publications, and continue to expand and shape such a vital collection.”

The artistic director and chief curator Nancy Spector said in a statement: “Ashley is a curator who has demonstrated incisive and intersectional thinking about contemporary artistic practice.

“Her work complements the Guggenheim’s mission to present the art of today, which we understand as a deep and expansive view of art history.

Previously, James was the assistant curator of contemporary art at the Brooklyn Museum in New York. During her tenure, she led the Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power exhibition. In a review from The New York Times, they called James: “A moving force behind the acclaimed exhibition”.

While the famed museum has worked with black curator’s before, this is the first time they have hired a black curator in a full time position. 

Chaédria LaBouvier, was one of the black guest curators and editors the Guggenheim worked with previously.


LaBouvier organised Basquiat’s ‘Defacement: The Untold Story at the Guggenheim about the reaction of Jean-Michel Basquiat and the downtown community to the death of Michael Stewart. 

She was the first black woman to curate a solo exhibition at the museum, and opened to rave reviews. Her exhibition saw the historical event, which was originally told through a white supremacist narrative, through a new lens. 

Earlier this month (November 6), a video surfaced on Twitter of LaBouvier participating in a museum panel discussion. She slammed the Guggenheim Museum’s decision to exclude her from participating in the panel discussion about Basquiat, alongside other scholars who had contributed to her own catalog. 

Speaking to the The New York Times last summer, she alluded to editorial friction during the making of the exhibition. 

“I think it will be better for the black curators coming after me,” she added. “For instance, if I didn’t review something, that meant that no person of colour looked at that document or process. And certainly it felt at times that there was an expectation that I would just be grateful to be in the room.”

The Guggenheim’s director Richard Armstrong, acknowledged that they have been “slightly off-tempo” with respect to hiring African-American curators. 

He said: “I want to reaffirm that we are in the midst of a concerted effort to broaden our curatorial staff”.

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