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Meg Onli. Photo: Marcus Maddox.
Meg Onli. Photo: Marcus Maddox.

Meg Onli Appointed Director and Curator of the Underground Museum

Meg Onli has been named director and curator of Los Angeles’s Underground Museum. She arrives from the Institute of Contemporary Art, Philadelphia, where she has worked as an associate curator since 2019. The Los Angeles native will co-lead the institution with director and COO Cristina Pacheco. Pacheco has served on the board of the Underground Museum since 2015, and as interim director and COO since 2020.

The Underground Museum was established across four storefronts in LA’s Arlington Heights neighborhood in 2012 by artists Karon and Noah Davis (Noah died the year after the institution’s founding). The purpose of the museum, which has always been free to the public, was to bring museum-quality exhibitions devoted to Black art to diverse audiences at no cost to visitors. The Underground Museum has since become renowned as a model for integrating art with community.

“The curatorial practice was one of the things that drew me to the UM,” Onli told the New York Times. “The way Noah was making shows was in line with mine, shows that were big and bold and not constrained.”

Onli joined the Philadelphia ICA in 2016 as an associate curator, in 2017 curating the group exhibition “Speech/Acts,” which explored experimental Black poetry and the influence of social and cultural constructs surrounding language on Black American life. In 2019 she organized the three-part Colored People Time, an investigation of the connections between language, slavery, and colonialism; and in 2020 she organized Jessica Vaughn’s solo exhibition at the museum. That same year, she founded the Art for Philadelphia initiative, which raised more than $100,000 for local community-led abolitionist groups. Earlier this year she was the inaugural recipient of the Figure Skating Prize, a new award that is to be given annually to a Black artist, curator, or contemporary art scholar who is advancing equity and racial justice within the arts.

Onli expressed a desire to move ahead with the kind of curating for which the Underground Museum is known, applying the Davis’s ideas across an even broader spectrum. “What Noah was doing was really taking a Black lens not only on Black art, but on all kinds of different art,” she said. “I want to ask: what does a Black lens look like across all kinds of different bodies of work, not only Black American artists?” Onli said she was eager to get out into the neighborhood and discover its denizens and businesses for herself. She will assume her new role December 1.

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