The Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago has filled its two top curatorial positions, both of which have been open for several months. René Morales will now be the institutions chief curator, and Jamillah James will be its senior curator. They will begin in their roles early next year.
James is among the most closely watched curators working today. With Margot Norton, she co-organized the 2021 New Museum Triennial, which runs until January 23. She is currently senior curator the Institute of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, where she has worked since 2016. Among her influential exhibitions there were ones dedicated to Nayland Blake, rafa esparza, B. Wurtz, Patty Chang, Kenneth Tam, and Nina Chanel Abney. She is currently at work on a Barbara T. Smith survey for the ICA LA that will open in 2023, and recently won the Foundation for Contemporary Arts’s $40,000 Ellsworth Kelly Award.
Morales is currently the director of curatorial affairs and chief curator at the Pérez Art Museum Miami. His curatorial credits at PAMM include solo shows dedicated to Meleko Mokgosi, Christo and Jeanne-Claude, Dara Friedman, Sarah Oppenheimer, and Monika Sosnowska, among others. He is currently at work on a major survey of Gary Simmons that will debut at PAMM and then travel to the MCA Chicago in 2023.
Morales replaces Michael Darling, who departed the MCA Chicago after a decade in January to launch a nonprofit called Museum Exchange. James will take the position left open after Naomi Beckwith departed the MCA Chicago to become deputy director and chief curator of the Guggenheim Museum in New York.
Darling and Beckwith’s departures came as the MCA Chicago faced controversy over furloughs and layoffs made during the pandemic. Workers at the museum have claimed that those cuts have mostly impacted the staff members who are Black, Indigenous, or people of color. Some banded together to form the group MCAccountable, which has called for more transparent communications between MCA Chicago leadership and its staff.
“We are building a curatorial team for the MCA’s next chapter, one that is committed to telling an inclusive art history, engaging with our community, and expanding the breadth and diversity of experience on the team,” MCA Chicago director Madeleine Grynsztejn said in a statement. “Both René and Jamillah are passionate about investing in Chicago’s community of artists, cultural stakeholders, and audiences, and their collaborative practice and open and authentic approach will be transformative for the MCA.”