Curator Helen Molesworth Looks Back On 30 Years Of Art Writing

A new book gathers 30 years worth of the curator's writings about the art world.

Helen Molesworth. Photo © Brigitte Lacombe.

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In 2018, Helen Molesworth was unceremoniously dismissed from her position as chief curator of the Museum of Contemporary Art Los Angeles. The move proved controversial among industry insiders, many of whom cast it as an example of an institution punishing its employee, a straight talking, strong willed feminist, for refusing to march in line.

But for Molesworth, whose resume also includes stints at the Institute of Contemporary Art Boston, the Baltimore Museum of Art, and the Wexner Center for the Arts, The backlash didn’t change the facts. For the first time in years, she was a curator without a home. Since then, Molesworth has struck out on her own, and she’s been as active as ever.

She’s guest curated critically acclaimed exhibitions of at David Zwirner, Jack Shainman, and International Center of Photography. She’s also hosted a hit podcast, Death of an Artist, about Anna Mendieta, led a series of filmed artist interviews, and been profiled by the New York Times. The forward momentum has given the curator little cause to look back.

That is, until now. This month, Phaidon will release Open Questions: Thirty Years of Writing About Art, a career spanning collection of Molesworth’s essays, all previously published in exhibition catalogs and art journals. Most of the written pieces are about artists, people like Kerry James Marshall, Catherine Opie, and Lisa Yuskavage. But the real subject of the book, of course, is Molesworth herself, and it’s a rich text in that regard.

“I trained as an art historian” Molesworth explains, “I really believe in art objects as knowledge producers, and for better or for worse, in the history of the 20th century, museums are the institutions that allow and convey that knowledge.”

Ahead of the book’s release, Artnet News senior writer Taylor Dafoe sat down with Molesworth to talk about the project and the period of deep personal reflection it inspired.


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