The Most Influential Curators of 2016

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.

Catherine Morris
artblog Portrait of Catherine Morris at the Brooklyn Museum by Daniel Dorsa for Artsy.
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 Beverly Buchanan. The show, which is on view through March 2017, revises the male-centric history of Land Art, among other revelations.

Morris also brought Marilyn Minter’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 Judith Scott and Eva Hesse, 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.

Jochen Volz
Photo: Sofia Colucci / Fundação Bienal de São Paulo, courtesy of Serpentine Galleries artblog
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 Adrián Villar Rojas, Marisa Merz, and Jake and Dinos Chapman, 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 Doris Salcedoand Lygia Pape to Marcel Broodthaers and Olafur Eliasson.

Hamza Walker
Portrait of Hamza Walker by Dawoud Bey. Courtesy of the Hammer Museum. artblog
Portrait of Hamza Walker by Dawoud Bey. Courtesy of the Hammer Museum.

Over the course of his 22-year career at Chicago’s Renaissance Society, Walker excelled at bringing to light under-recognized artists and narratives. This year, his long-term engagement with these themes was given the large-scale, prominent platform it deserves in the Hammer Museum’s third installment of “Made in L.A.,” a biennial focused on Los Angeles-based practices. The show, which Walker co-curated with the Hammer’s Aram Moshayedi, largely drew glowing reviews that focused on the show’s ability to seamlessly connect the little-known but pioneering practices of septua- and octogenarian artists like Kenzi Shiokava and Wadada Leo Smith with the work of emerging artists like Martine Syms, Adam Linder, and Kenneth Tam.

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.



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