The Guggenheim Museum Has Hired Its First Full-Time Black Curator Following Claims Of Racism
The museum was facing withering criticism from Chaedria LaBouvier, the Black curator behind the recent Basquiat exhibit.
November 19, 2019 at 3:39 pm
The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum has hired Ashley James as its first full-time Black curator after being criticized last month for racism by curator Chaedria LaBouvier.
On Friday, the museum released a statement announcing the hiring of James, who is a world-renowned curator and most recently served as the assistant curator of contemporary art at the Brooklyn Museum.
James has spent time as a curator for the Studio Museum in Harlem and the Yale University Art Gallery while also working as a Mellon Curatorial Fellow in the Museum of Modern Art’s drawings and prints department. She is slated to receive her Ph.D. from Yale in English literature, African American studies and women’s gender and sexuality studies in the spring.
In her statement to The New York Times, James said she was eager "to begin work 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.”
Her hiring comes directly on the heels of criticism of the museum. LaBouvier became Guggenheim's first Black female curator to organize a solo exhibition when she led this summer's groundbreaking exhibition “Basquiat’s ‘Defacement’: The Untold Story.”
The show drew thousands throughout its five-month run and was well-reviewed by dozens of art magazines and news outlets.
On Twitter earlier this month, she aired a number of criticisms against the museum's higherups. She alleges that they refused to let her work on the audio guide for her own show. When she asked to hear the audio guide, they sent her to the front lobby desk of the museum.
Please ask why at a publicly funded museum these things have happened:— No Quarter Will Be Given (@chaedria) November 1, 2019
Being barred from de-installation
Digital products such as digital guide x Spotify playlist created w/o my knowledge/input
Not being asked to give high profile private tours, as curators do. https://t.co/QQ3V5g1iVT
The worst thing the museum did, according to LaBouvier, was create a panel about her show without inviting her to speak. She showed up to the panel anyway and spoke her mind.
“What went down was cowardly, so insecure, so violent. You have a panel that is hoisted on that intellectual labor, that intellectual credibility, on the penultimate day of the exhibition and say that it’s not about the Basquiat show?” LaBouvier said.
“This is insane,” she added.
It went down at the Guggenheim! @chaedria is the first Black curator to exhibit with the institution with her show Basquiat: Defacement The Untold Story. They left her off the panel and..... pic.twitter.com/UjM5NlpBRz— bad news women (@badnewswomen) November 6, 2019
Elizabeth Duggal, president of The Guggenheim Museum, was at the panel and defended the museum, claiming the panel had been set up months ago.
The video cut off (Twitter's limit) but here's the rest of what I said about institutional violence and to Nancy Spector who organized the panel for "weaponizing bodies of color to do your filth." https://t.co/XQX6sl788B— No Quarter Will Be Given (@chaedria) November 6, 2019
"It’s not always with curators at these programs,” she said. “We do really respect and honor your work and everything that you’ve done,” Duggal added.
"I believe in institutions that work. I (sometimes) believe in institutions that offer remorseful, corrective, compassionate and moral corrections to their abuses of power of past. The show is a scholastic success, but is an institutional failure in the Guggenheim's history. I wanted badly for this show to be a success in every way, but it was not to be," LaBouvier wrote on Twitter.
I hope that this conversation and action shifts the pendulum twds compassion and justice. The art world needs more of those things and more of those ppl.— No Quarter Will Be Given (@chaedria) November 4, 2019
That said, I cannot in fair faith suggest anyone of color join most museum ranks. https://t.co/NhM6oau6fz
View this post on Instagram
With sound! This is the 2nd video in wherein which I directly speak to Nancy Spector, the #Guggenheim chief curator who organized the panel, and then later screamed at Aruna D'Souza for opening up the Q+A, which she gave instructions to not do so. They defied her. It confirmed for me and others that the panel was really about putting me in my place for challenging Spector and weaponizing prominent bodies of color as shields, while employing the assumed innocence of White womanhood and their adjacent tears to try to remind me who had the power, access and reach to erase me. It's an extraordinary abuse of power, that along w/#HansHaacke is one of the most shameful chapters in Guggenheim history. This is squarely a failure of the museum for not better protecting me by addressing the museum culture that enables abuses of power and retaliation that I and others have experienced. The Guggenheim has looked the other way as she created/instigated digital audio guides, #Spotify playlists, hoarded access and resources that were essential to the show. I basically curated the exhibition with 1 hand tied behind my back. That's a testament to other forces, but my talent and drive to see this show happen and protect it w/ everything that I had in me. For months ppl intimated that I would never curate again if I said something. I am willing to take that risk. No curator should have to experience this, and it's worth it to me to speak so myself x others don't. My heart has broken reading all of your messages about institutional abuse in my DMs. I am heartbroken for all of us that had to survive when we should have been celebrating. Thank you to the panelists that shared, "We got you. We are holding you", and would not be used for this kind of filth. Their work deserved way more than this use. Pls send light their way: Greg Tate, @teacherbell, Ashley James, @jfaithalmiron, Aruna D'Souza. And thank you to my friends who came and stood by me as I spoke my truth. TY @badnewswomen for filming. You cannot bury history nor a spirit that is free and will remain just that. #Basquiat #BasquiatDefacement #MuseumsAreNotNeutral #ArtHistory #ChaedriaLaBouvier
"What parts were a success were in spite of the Guggenheim, not because of it. And I can say that having built and funded the foundation before it got to them. This wasn't the first time the Guggenheim has disrespected me whole benefitting from my labor. I said nothing about a lot. The brick that broke the camel's back was the audacity to host a panel more or less hoisted on the intellectual currency of my work. Not on my watch," she added.
In a later Tweet, she noted that the museum only announced the hiring of James after her issues had been publicized and condemned the museum for using her hiring as cover for their own racism.
Because no human, especially a Black woman, should be that institutional guinea pig. And this is such a reactive, performative hire, the necessary changes needed to make it safe are definitely not in place. The whole world can see that. It's in the video.— No Quarter Will Be Given (@chaedria) November 15, 2019
"This is a huge moment in a curator's career. Her moment deserves to come without baggage, violence and all of these conversations that are now attached that really aren't about her, but the Guggenheim used her as a shield for," she added.
She's not even worked a week, and already the Guggenheim has weaponized her body and labor for a totally violent panel, weaponized her hire to make it about them as well as harm me..and this just day 1.— No Quarter Will Be Given (@chaedria) November 15, 2019
No way this won't go off the rails again. Watch.
"Doing a 2-for-1 sweep of PR damage control, at my expense and the new curator's expense. Whiteness always finds a way to center itself. And there's a team of white women engineering this. Luckily I feel most ppl see that this is about pitting two Black women against one another in such a way that no one fully wins, except for the Guggenheim. This is so off- the-rails racist, I don't know where to begin," she said.