Who's at the Center? Paul Schimmel and Helen Molesworth

18 Feb 2013


Helen Molesworth and Paul Schimmel at The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage, February 18, 2013.

Paul Schimmel and Helen Molesworth, two curators widely celebrated for their ambition and scholarship, visit the Center in mid February 2013 to discuss curating and historiography with visual arts and exhibition professionals from the Philadelphia area. Schimmel is substantially responsible for bringing international attention to Los Angeles art since the early 1980s, while Molesworth's This Will Have Been: Art, Love, and Politics in the 1980s (2012) is the first U.S. museum retrospective devoted to the decade.

Full bios:

Helen Molesworth is the Barbara Lee Chief Curator at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston, where she has organized one-person exhibitions of artists Catherine Opie (2011) and Josiah McElheny (2012), as well as group exhibitions such as Dance/Draw (2011). Madeleine Grynsztejn, director of the MCA Chicago, recently described Molesworth as "among the very, very best curators in the country—in fact anywhere." While head of the department of modern and contemporary art at the Harvard Art Museum, Molesworth presented an exhibition of photographs by Moyra Davey (2008) and ACT UP NY: Activism, Art, and the AIDS Crisis 1987–1993 (2010). From 2002 to 2007, she was the chief curator of exhibitions at the Wexner Center for the Arts, where she organized the first U.S. retrospectives of Louise Lawler (2006) and Luc Tuymans (2009), as well as Part Object Part Sculpture (2005), which examined sculpture made in the wake of Marcel Duchamp's erotic objects and handmade ready-mades of the 1960s. As curator of contemporary art at the Baltimore Museum of Art from 2000–02, she organized Work Ethic (2003), which traced the problem of artistic labor in post-1960s art. This Will Have Been: Art, Love, and Politics in the 1980s (2012) is Molesworth's latest project. The ambitious exhibition retrospectively "narrativizes the decade from the position of memory and hindsight," according to the catalog, "with all the open wounds, elisions, anachronisms, and blank spots implied therein." Focusing primarily on American art with a further emphasis on New York, Molesworth has written this narrative around key socio-political events, deliberately avoiding common dominant "appropriation" vs. "neo-expressionist" characterizations.

Paul Schimmel, chief curator of the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles from 1990 to 2012, has organized over 52 exhibitions, among them ambitious surveys such as Under the Big Black Sun: California Art, 1974–1981 (2011), Helter Skelter: L.A. Art in the 1990s (1992), and Destroy the Picture: Painting the Void, 1949–1962 (2012). Art critic Christopher Knight opined in the Los Angeles Times last June, "No curator working in the United States today has a more impressive record of exhibitions and acquisitions in the field of art since 1950 than Schimmel." Throughout the 1980s, Schimmel was the chief curator at the Newport Harbor Art Museum (now the Orange County Museum of Art). During his eight-year tenure, he transformed a provincial program into a nationally respected one, filling an important gap left by the failure of the Pasadena Art Museum in the 1970s. One of his first shows there, realized after his own migration from New York, was Shift, LA/NY (1982), which included the work of artists from New York who had previously lived or been educated in Los Angeles. His subsequent exhibitions, while interspersed with shows of post-war art, put equal emphasis on "the new." He initiated the Newport Biennial, started an ongoing series titled "New California Artists," and curated a Chris Burden retrospective (1988). He has become closely identified with artists he worked with from that period and shortly thereafter who have since come to represent a breakout generation of Los Angeles artists, among them Mike Kelley and Paul McCarthy.