5 Fresh Faces Curating the Bay Area Museum + Artistic Stage
Our world is changing, for better or for worse, and museums, out of necessity, are responding. The coronavirus pandemic has resulted in costly and time-consuming shutdowns, but it has given administrators a chance to address some of the lingering social issues facing all of our institutions: the insistent demands for justice and equality from Black Lives communities. Matter (BLM) and LGBTQIA +; and the fairness demands of the Me Too movement and others.
“Curatorial responsibility has never been more urgent,” said Christina Yang, who begins full-time as chief curator at UC Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (BAMPFA) in January. ” It’s time to change. “
Yang is one of five recently appointed curators we spoke to about this roundup of new faces. Four out of five are women. Only two were born in the United States. One of the five is South African and the other African American. Two are of Chinese origin and one is Italian. They are all passionate about their work.
Natasha Becker, curator of the African Art Gallery of Fine Arts in San Francisco. Right: Becker’s first museum acquisition “Modern Magic (Studies of African Art from Picasso’s Collection) V.” Images courtesy of the San Francisco Art Museums.
Natasha Becker | FAMSF
Becker, born and raised in South Africa, has just made her first acquisition as the inaugural curator of the African Art Gallery at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco (FAMSF). This is a work by the famous Anglo-Nigerian artist Yinka Shonibare which will be presented at a later date. Shonibare does work that examines the legacy of Western colonialism and its lingering traces on the world today, and this work speaks to the history of European modernism and shows how the avant-garde period was inspired by African objects.
The acquisition responds to one of Becker’s first objectives, namely to create a dialogue between works of contemporary African art and the collection of 300 main works of the gallery, mainly sculptures. The gallery will close next year for renovations that will include the construction of a mini space for contemporary pieces. His vision is certainly influenced by the experience of growing up under apartheid in a remote suburb of Cape Town. She described her first visit to a museum as “uncomfortable”. Images of blacks were either non-existent or depicted as natives. European art was in a separate building.
While in college her first love was photography, but her transformative experience came when she met contemporary artists in Cape Town, and saw how they approached history, current issues, and world affairs from ‘a burning desire for liberation.
Becker holds an MA in African History from the University of the Western Cape in South Africa and completed his PhD in Art History at Binghampton University in New York. She has worked regularly since arriving in the United States in 2003, most recently as Curator in Residence at FactionArtProject in Harlem.
Although Becker acknowledges that important changes have been made in great art institutions, with her appointment to FAMSF as an example, she says, “Now is the time to be accountable, to ask real questions and to transform ideas. American museums. “
Elena Gross, Director of Exhibitions and Curatorial Affairs at the African Diaspora Museum.Left: “Bella Sontez, 2019” by Amoako Boafo, from “Soul of Black Folks”, currently playing at MoAD. Images courtesy of MoAD.
Elena Gross | African Diaspora Museum
Elena Gross, who last summer was promoted to director of exhibitions and curatorial affairs at the Museum of the African Diaspora (MoAD), wants to spark a “different conversation”. She says that since the uprising following the murder of George Floyd, many cultural conversations have focused on “How do white institutions consider race?” While she doesn’t think this is a bad idea, “As a black woman and commissioner, my interest is in shifting this conversation to darkness in its fullness and complexity.”
Gross holds a BA in Art History from St. Mary’s College in Maryland and an MA in Visual and Critical Studies from California College of the Arts. She was the creator and co-host of the “What are you watching?” Podcast published by Art Practical before joining MoAD and leading its Emerging Artist Program. “The mark I want to leave is that in the work I do here, we work from an artist-centered and artist-prioritized approach. “
She wants to show “the beautiful diversity and the great scope of the work that currently exists”, by referring to the works increasingly appreciated by West African and African-American artists. In the past, sculpture, especially that collected during colonization, was what people thought of when they thought of African art. She said there is some exciting and far-reaching work going on.
Five exhibitions are currently on display, including 20 works by Ghanaian portrait artist Amoako Boafo that question the “dark gaze” as well as the first major exhibition by Johannesburg artist Billie Zangewa and textile works that examine intersectional identity.
Christina Yang, Chief Curator at BAMPFA.Right: “Boundless Compassion, 1993”, from the upcoming “Spiritual Mountains: The Art of Wesley Tongson”. Images courtesy of BAMPFA
Christina Yang | BAMPFA
Becker and Gross’ desire for change is shared by Yang at BAMPFA, an institution with over 28,000 works of art and 18,000 films and videos. She hopes to participate in “the decolonization of the historical collection, confronting social injustice and reimagining what constitutes an inclusive experience.” Museums, she said, “are doing their math.” In addition to dealing with social problems, there are the effects of the pandemic. Museums, she argues, have a civic responsibility as gathering places to demonstrate their concern for human well-being. “Art heals,” she says. “Art saves lives.
UC Berkeley is a perfect fit for Yang who did his undergraduate studies in History and Art History there and did an internship at BAMPFA. She returns after a 30-year career, including 14 years at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York City and most recently served at the Williams College Museum of Art as Deputy Director of Engagement and Curator of Education. .
And the Bay Area is a good fit for Yang given its rich global Pacific culture. Born to parents of Chinese descent who immigrated here in the 1950s, she spent part of her youth in South Bay and part in Europe. She speaks five languages.
Hoi Leung, curator of the Chinese Cultural CenterRight: Sofía Córdova, photo from the upcoming exhibition “dawn_chorusiii: the fruit they don’t have here. Images courtesy of CCC.
Hoi Leung | Chinese cultural center
Born into the working class in Hong Kong, Hoi Leung and her family moved to the United States in 2004 when she was a young girl. After graduating from UCLA with an art degree, Leung began volunteering at the Chinese Cultural Center. He appealed to her because of his more than 50-year-old roots in San Francisco’s Chinatown and his long-standing commitment to social and racial justice.
Leung assumed increasing responsibilities and was appointed curator of the Center in 2019. “I owe my knowledge to the neighborhood. I learned to do the police station from Chinatown. She practices “community building curating”, starting from the bottom up and cultivating long term relationships with artists and local partners, “being at the intersection of art and community”.
Covid, Stop Asian Hate and BLM have only strengthened the Centre’s commitment to its long-standing mission of being a voice uplifting underserved people on issues such as racial justice, urban development, gentrification, l queer aesthetics and diasporic identities.
The opening this month is “dawn_chorusiii: the fruit they don’t have here.” A video work telling the stories of six women from the Bay Area who came to the United States as refugees. The Chinese Cultural Center and artist Sofia Cordóva worked closely on this two-year storytelling project with other community organizations.
Curator Furio Rinaldi pictured at the exhibition “Color Into Line: Pastels from the Renaissance to the Present Image courtesy of San Francisco Art Museums.
Furio Rinaldi | FAMSF
In May 2020, when Rinaldi joined FAMSF as Curator of Drawings and Prints, the museum was closed due to Covid, but this period of less activity had an advantage in that it had more than time to discover the often hidden treasures of the museum’s 90,000. + collection of works of art on paper: drawings, prints and artist’s books. The collection, the largest on the west coast, spans the 15th to the 21st century and is housed within the Achenbach Foundation for Graphic Arts in the museum.
Raised in Italy with a doctorate from the University of Rome, Rinaldi’s area of expertise is Italian drawings of the 15th and 16th centuries, in particular the schools of the “greats” of the Renaissance – Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael and Michel- Angel. He considers drawing as “the father of art”. “After all,” he says, “painting, sculpture and architecture usually begin with drawings.
In less than two years, Rinaldi organized “Color into Line: Pastels from the Renaissance to the Present”. In the process of setting up the exhibition, two important reallocations, based on his scholarship, were made. Two key acquisitions were also made: an 18th century pastel landscape by Elisabeth Louise Vigée-LeBrun and a 21st century pastel depicting a homeless camp by Donna Anderson Kam.
Each gallery contains works by male and female artists, including three female artists, starting with 18th-century Venetian artist Rosalba Carriera, whose pastel portraits have been widely acclaimed. The works of impressionist artists Berthe Morisot, Mary Cassatt and Eva Gonzalès are the highlights of the exhibition.
Going forward, the museum and Rinaldi have bold plans to present the Achenbach collection with an ambitious exhibition program.
This article was written by Dorothy Reed for Monthly SF / Arts. Dorothy is an award-winning journalist, writer and editor. She received her MA in Creative Writing from USF and studied American Literature at Stony Brook University, NY. She was an assistant professor and director of the journalism program at Long Island University.