The MCA Chicago Has Hired Keyed-In Curators René Morales and Jamillah James to Fill Top Leadership Roles

They will replace Michael Darling and Noami Beckwith.

René Morales. Photo by Karli Evans

The Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago has announced two top curatorial appointments: René Morales as chief curator and Jamillah James as senior curator. They both are scheduled to start in January.

The decorated art historians fill the closely watched vacancies left by chief curator Michael Darling and senior curator Naomi Beckwith, who both announced their departures in January.

Darling is now the co-founder of the startup Museum Exchange, a digital platform for art donations, while Beckwith is chief curator and deputy director at New York City’s Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum.

“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 director Madeleine Grynsztejn said in a statement.

The appointments come after the museum was subject to some criticism from artists and staff for what they described as unequal working conditions after it laid off more than 40 staffers in January 2021.

The Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago. Photo by Peter McCullough, © MCA Chicago.

The Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago. Photo by Peter McCullough, ©MCA Chicago.

Morales, who was born in Cienfuegos, Cuba, comes to the MCA from the Pérez Art Museum Miami, where he was director of curatorial affairs and chief curator. His 25-year curatorial career also includes a stint at the Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design, and receiving the Center for Curatorial Leadership Fellowship in 2019. His appointment was first reported by the Art Newspaper.

At PAMM, his focus has been highlighting Miami’s diverse community and position at a geographic crossroads in the America. Morales is curating “Gary Simmons: Public Enemy,” a career survey for the multidisciplinary artist whose work addresses issues of class, race, and gender identify, which will travel to the MCA from PAMM in 2023.

“As a longtime fan of the MCA and Chicago’s radiant community of artists and art professionals, I am honored to join the museum at this pivotal time,” Morales said.

Since 2016, James has been a curator at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, where she has curated solo shows for Sara Cwynar and Rebecca Morris that will open in 2022.

Jamillah James. Photo by Jasmine Clarke.

Jamillah James. Photo by Jasmine Clarke.

She co-curatedSoft Water Hard Stone,” the 2021 edition of the New Museum Triennial for emerging artists in New York (through January 23, 2022). James has also worked as assistant curator at the Hammer Museum, Los Angeles, and held curatorial positions at the Studio Museum in Harlem and Queens Museum, New York.

James has professional roots in Chicago, where she graduated Columbia College in 2005 as part of the institution’s first class of art history graduates.

“Visiting the MCA helped me realize the possibilities of curating and of museums,” James said. “The city of Chicago is home to an incredible community of artists, and I am humbled by the opportunity to be an advocate for them as part of the MCA’s team.”

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