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Jamillah James. Photo: Jasmine Clarke.
Jamillah James. Photo: Jasmine Clarke.

MCA Chicago Taps René Morales and Jamillah James for Top Curatorial Roles

The Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago has announced René Morales as chief curator and Jamillah James as senior curator. The Cienfugos, Cuba–born Morales is a twenty-five-year veteran of the art world, most recently serving as director of curatorial affairs and chief curator of the Pérez Art Museum Miami (PAMM). He is currently staging a major exhibition of the work of Gary Simmons, which will launch at PAMM next year before traveling to the MCA Chicago in 2023. James, a New Jersey native who since 2016 has served as curator at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, co-curated with Margot Norton the 2021 edition of the New Museum Triennial in New York, which focuses on emerging artists. The highly sought-after James had previously worked as an assistant curator at the Hammer Museum, Los Angeles, and had held curatorial positions at the Studio Museum in Harlem and Queens Museum, New York.

The roles Morales and James are to occupy had sat vacant for nearly a year following the respective January 2021 departures of chief curator Michael Darling and senior curator Naomi Beckwith. At the time of their leaving—Darling for Museum Exchange, a digital platform matching art collectors with institutions seeking their donations, and Beckwith for the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York, where she replaced Nancy Spector as deputy director and chief curator—the Chicago Tribune noted that the loss of the two luminaries left museum director Madeleine Grynsztejn with a major gap in the institution’s leadership but also offered her the chance to restructure the curatorial team to reflect the present moment, shaped by a surging demand for racial equality and by the economic hardships inflicted by the continuing Covid-19 crisis. Both were embodied in the turmoil in recent months at MCA Chicago, which saw layoffs and job consolidations especially affecting people of color.

“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,” said Grynsztejn. “Both René and Jamillah are passionate about investing in Chicago’s community of artists, cultural stakeholders, and audiences, and their collaborative practice and open and authentic approach will be transformative for the MCA.”