6 Curators Shaping Contemporary Curation

Celia Lee

6 Curators Shaping Contemporary Curation from the 20th Century   The influence of an artwork goes beyond …

6 Curators Shaping Contemporary Curation from the 20th Century


The influence of an artwork goes beyond itself. The artwork’s style, medium, and content can persuade monumental changes into existence. But the curatorial method of said artworks also play a heavy part in this persuasion. Especially in realising the impact of art on society’s development.


What are some of the most influential curators the art world has seen since the 20th century? How have their practices shaped contemporary curation as we know it today? Indeed, what has been the trend empowering their practice in the first place?


In this article, we will look at 6 of the most influential curators shaping the contemporary art scene since the 20th century.


Masters In Curation


Curator Thelma Golden

6 Curators Shaping Contemporary Curation from the 20th Century: 1. Thelma Golden

Thelma Golden is arguably one of the most influential curators in the 20th century. Golden began her professional career as a curator at the Whitney Museum of American Art. Her curatorial influence in the art world has been thriving ever since.


Her time at the Whitney entailed many innovative exhibitions. One exhibition stands out amongst others. The 1994 “Black Male: Representations of Masculinity”. This is a monumental display that continues to shape contemporary curation today.


Today, Golden continues her curatorial influence from an executive level. As the director and chief curator of The Studio Museum in Harlem. Golden remains focused on exploring how art’s social impact. Its ability to mould and define issues of race, culture, and community in a globalised world.


Black Male: Representations of Masculinity in American Art

Golden’s exhibition was provocative. Initiating heated dialogues around contemporary understanding and representations of black masculinity. Many of which still remains ongoing to this day.


The exhibition invites visitors to consider how black masculinity been circulating the public. The primary concerns of being stereotypical and false forms of representation. Golden bring archetypes right to the fore in the exhibition. This creates a space where such toxic representations of a people can be questioned, challenged. And hopefully, erased. The exhibition encourages visitors to question rooted stereotypical representations of black masculinity. How our contemporary society continues to allow such misrepresentations to circulate today. Here is another monumental impact of Golden’s exhibition. Challenging the silent, systematic oppression from which such stereotypes and false representations originated.


Golden is the Whitney’s first black curator. Her exhibition made for a turning point in contemporary curatorial practices. Introducing voices, narratives, and histories other than the singular, official account.


Curator Zoe Whitley

6 Curators Shaping Contemporary Curation from the 20th Century: 2. Zoe Whitley

Zoé Whitley is determined to continue past efforts in empowering Black women in the art world. Her curatorial influence can still be seen in contemporary practice today.  Out of the lengthy list of exhibitions curated by Whitley. One in particular seems to have lasting influence on contemporary curatorial practices.


Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power

“Soul of a Nation” was monumental in its content and exhibition period. The original display began in the middle of the Civil Rights movement in America. No doubt. Whitley’s exhibition was an artistic reflection. Of the movement’s advocation for integration and equality.


This exhibition features African American art from the 1960s-1980s. It was also a powerful rally in the wake of civil unrest and conflict. Whitley accumulated prominent and relevant works in the exhibition. Some pieces displayed acted as a socio-political response. To the ongoing fight for African American rights and equality in the US at the time. The Influence of Whitley’s exhibition was instantaneous. Immediately emerging within American society were vigorous voices. Voices crying for pride, autonomy, and independence.


The success of “Soul” exceeds its socio-political impacts. The exhibition does this by displaying a variety of media. The artworks displayed were thought-provoking down to their individual components. Paintings and murals made for powerful presences in the exhibition space. A space which became an intersection point for traditional and innovative art practices. Traditional media are complemented with sculptures made with everyday objects. Records, clothing items, hair. Artworks also reference leading politicians, musicians, and sportspeople of the time. The intimacy of these works expressed the cause of struggle powerfully.


The Place is Here

Whitley curated another equally successful and influential exhibition. The display launched in the same year as “Soul”. “The Place” examines the 1980s movement of Black British Art. Addressed in the exhibition are current dialogues between black intellectuals in Britain. Displayed are artworks of a wide range of media. From paintings and sculptures, installation views, to photography and video.


Although wildly different in media, these artworks all pose the same question. A question of identity, representation, and the use of culture. And their meaning at the time of political upheaval.


Whitley’s exhibition has  a strong connection to current civil and socio-political issues. Whitley also dives deep into Britain’s colonial past. Especially its monopoly on our common understanding of art history today. The Civil Rights Movement in America, which was the main focus of “Soul”, also influenced “The Place”. The exhibition provided artists, curators, and visitors a space for negotiation. Of histories, identities, and narratives from a new, decolonial perspective. Showcased are artworks that represent a multitude of voices and personal history. Which unmistakably differ from official history and narrative.


Whitley’s exhibition is influential. It overturns established and entrenched notions of society from an artistic perspective. “Soul” and “The Place” have become models for contemporary curatorial practices. Especially those wishing to address pressing issues of colonisation, discrimination, and oppression today.


Curator Gabi Ngcobo

6 Curators Shaping Contemporary Curation from the 20th Century: 3. Gabi Ngcobo

Gabi Nbcobo is a prominent curator and enthusiastic art educator. Her expertise in curation led her to head the 10th Berlin Biennale for Contemporary Art back in 2018.


We Don’t Need Another Hero

The title of the 10th Berlin Biennale is starkly provoking. As it is set against the rising need for heroism since the beginning of the 21st century,


The curatorial practice of this Biennale rejects one single heroic narrative. Ngcobo addressed the problematic notion of a single history in our globalised world. Her vision for the Biennale is to create a diversified space. One of reference; a storage of historical narratives. A space permitting evolution and change when considering global discourses and developments. What’s more, Ngcobo was able to localise her curatorial vision in Berlin. Where the Biennale takes place. This way, her message resonates further with visitors of the Biennale. As it remains intimately relevant to the international and the local.

Ngcobo’s curatorial practice at the Biennale is part of a wider mission. Which is to address issues of decolonisation through the arts. Multiple histories directly react against an official history. One that is prominent, singular, and Western. Understanding narrative multiplicity can be a powerful way to enact sociological change. It also brings to the forefront of history peoples and narratives before overlooked and ignored.


The space of curation is a political landscape like no other. Ngcobo demonstrates how to begin considering and crafting a decolonial approach to curation.


6 Curators Shaping Contemporary Curation from the 20th Century: 4. Sheikha Hoor Al Qasimi

Sheikha Hoor Al Qasimi is a leading curatorial figure in the contemporary art scene. Her curatorial impact begins at her first post. As the director of the Sharjah Biennial at merely 22 years old. Today, as the founder and director of the Sharjah Art Foundation. Al Qasimi’s influence is wide-reaching and knows no bounds. Yet few can compete with the changes Al Qasimi has brought to the Sharjah Biennial. Especially its subsequent success and international renown.


Al Qasimi took over the role as director for the Sharjah Biennial. After she had recently returned Berlin. Where she was participating in international art events in Europe. Al Qasimi was determined to make changes to the Biennale. Espeically through curatorial practices. Which relate to social and artistic attitudes to art at home. Al Qasimi made controversial decisions. In her first year as director of the Sharjah Biennial. One of them was to encourage the display and exhibition of new, international art.


Many existing employees disagreed with the changes. But Al Qasimi was adamant to implement on the Biennale, she persevered. Throughout her years as director. Al Qasimi was able to transform the Sharjah Biennial successfully. Into an internationally renowned event. Both in the art world and to the wider public.


Al Qasimi’s efforts brought the Sharjah Biennale to an international level. The global renown of the Biennale also lifted the artistic status of the gulf’s art scene in the coming years. Today, Al Qasimi’s determination to promote cultural exchange and collaboration remains influential. Various Western institutions are following in her footsteps, providing a platform for talents. Artists, curators, and other art personnel of the gulf. Which they have neglected for centuries.


Curator Candice Hopkins

6 Curators Shaping Contemporary Curation from the 20th Century: 5. Candice Hopkins

Candice Hopkins is a prominent curator involved with many international Biennales and exhibitions. A citizen of Tlingit descent. Hopkins is an avid figure in promoting the contribution of the arts in decolonising efforts. Hopkins has curated monumental exhibitions that remain intimately relevant in our contemporary world.


Soundings: An Exhibition in Five Parts

Hopkins is a co-curator for “Soundings”. This exhibition is provocative. Both in the socio-political issues addressed and the media of artworks displayed.


As the name of the exhibition suggests, audio works are a main feature of the display. They are complemented with performances, video art and sculptures. By indigenous and other artists. Curators of “Soundings” envisioned a dynamic “score”. Made up of objects, artworks, and bodies displayed in five parts of the exhibition. A score meant to “be a call and tool for decolonisation”.


Different parts of the “score” are activated. Each at different times in the exhibition by various peoples. Whether it be musicians, dancers, performers, or visitors. Everyone has a hand in filling the exhibition space with sound. Just as everyone is complicit with colonisation. And responsible for decolonising our contemporary world.


Hopkins’ curatorial practice for “Soundings” ensures the exhibition is a collaborative project. There is not one ‘authentic’ experience to colonisation expressed in the exhibition. The variety of objects and artworks displayed. In turn solidifies the presence of multiple histories, narratives and memories. Which cannot be erased by an official version.


“Soundings” is monumental in addressing ideas and issues surrounding indigenous land and territory. Hopkins’ curatorial practice conveys a clear, unmistakable, and important message. Acknowledgment does not undo centuries of colonial domination and displacement. “Soundings” displays as well as empowers indigenous voices. In their struggle for decolonisation through innovative curation.


Curator Camille Morineau

6 Curators Shaping Contemporary Curation from the 20th Century: 6. Camille Morineau 

Camille Morineau is a prominent French curator of contemporary art. Out of the many curatorial projects she has worked on. elles@centrepompidou (2009-2011) remains one of the most influential. She has curated many exhibitions. Among which was elles@centrepompidou (2009-2011). The first of its kind. Which presented a selection of works exclusively by women. From the national museum of modern art’s collection.



“elles” is the first exhibition of its kind. Opening in 2009. It was the first collection of European modern and contemporary exclusively by women. Collected from the national museum of modern art’s archives. The exhibition was unique in its empowerment of women artists throughout history. No matter their discipline or nationality.


The exhibition is curated according to the theme of the artworks produced. And the chronology in which they are produced. All 350 pieces in the exhibition focus and redefine the history of European contemporary art. Which has been construed as male-driven.


Artworks displayed at “elles” are multidisciplinary in a practical sense. Ranging from visual arts, fashion design, photography. Architecture, video and film art, and performance art. Morineau was able to create an inclusive and diverse environment. Which showcases the importance of multiplicity. Even in collections and acquisitions of major art institutions. 




The six curators all contributed to the contemporary curatorial scene in different ways. One similarity can be found across their practices. They directly tackles the source of much civil unrest present in contemporary society. Racism, colonialism, indigenous land rights. And the moment of decolonisation. Which seem to be further and further from realisation as each day passes. Yet the curators presented such issues in a way that inspires and rallies. It is the exhibitions’ ability to incite and promote change. That makes them influential today.


To read more about how major institutions are improving the diversity of the artworld today. Take a look at our other article about the 2022 Venice Biennale.



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