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Helen Molesworth, Top Curator At Boston's ICA, Is Leaving For LA

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Helen Molesworth. (John Kennard)

Helen Molesworth. (John Kennard)

Helen Molesworth, chief curator at Boston’s Institute of Contemporary Art, has been named the new chief curator at Los Angeles’s Museum of Contemporary Art, the California museum announced today. She is expected to begin work there Sept. 1.

Molesworth is one of the handful of curators in the country redefining the canon of art of the past half century, one of the most influential curators in the nation, and thereby, someone reshaping the way we think about art and art history.

Since joining the ICA in 2010, she developed the landmark 2012 exhibition “This Will Have Been: Art, Love & Politics in the 1980s,” which reexamined the decade through AIDS, feminism and queer culture.

“It’s a very ambitious show,” Los Angeles Times critic Christopher Knight told me for a 2012 profile I wrote of Molesworth for The Boston Phoenix. “It’s the kind of show that very few art museums even attempt. … I hadn’t seen this type of show at another American museum, aside from MoCA, in a very, very long time.”

Molesworth also organized the 2011 exhibit “Dance/Draw,” which traced the origins of performance art to the intersection of dancing and drawing. She has paid little attention to art made in Massachusetts during her time here, instead focusing significantly on art from New York and Los Angeles. At the ICA, she organized solo shows of several artists, including a 2011 exhibit of photos by Catherine Opie, who serves on LA MoCA’s board.

MoCA had for years been seen as one of the very greatest museums in the world—and at the very forefront of defining modern and contemporary art. It has also played a key role in championing art from California and putting Los Angeles art on the map.

At MoCA, Molesworth succeeds former chief curator Paul Schimmel, a legendary curator who was responsible for much of that reputation, but was forced out in 2012, after 22 years at the museum, during a power struggle with director Jeffrey Deitch. Deitch himself announced he was leaving last summer, after three tumultuous years there, during which the institution faced potentially fatal financial problems and there was controversy over his artistic vision.

The Los Angeles museum now says it is “in the strongest position in its history following the recent success of the campaign by the museum’s board to raise its endowment to more than $100 million [and] the appointment of director Philippe Vergne in March this year.”

At LA MoCA, Molesworth joins curator Bennett Simpson, who found work there in 2007 immediately after a stint at the ICA.

Greg Cook is co-founder of WBUR’s ARTery. Talk with him about Molesworth’s departure on Twitter @AestheticResear and Facebook.

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Welcome to the ARTery. The ARTery offers the best of Art news, reviews and features in sounds, words, sights, stages, screens and experiences in and of Boston. The ARTery, presented by WBUR, Boston’s NPR News Station, is powered by critic-at-large Ed Siegel and reporter and critic Greg Cook.

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