Co-curated by Susan Cross and Larry Ossei-Mensah, “Allison Janae Hamilton: Pitch” is on view at Mass MOCA through February 2019.

 

FROM NEW YORK CITY to Rome, Italy, curator Larry Ossei-Mensah has been working with some of the freshest names in contemporary art—Derrick Adams, Firelei Báez, and Abigail DeVille, among them.

At Elizabeth Dee gallery in New York, Ossei-Mensah inaugurated “Selections,” a series of exhibitions highlighting the work of emerging artists such as Derek Fordjour, Lucia Hierro, and Leslie Jimenez. “No Such Place: Contemporary African Artists In America,” which he co-curated at Edward Tyler Nahem Fine Art in New York, presented works by eight artists, including Fordjour, ruby onyinyechi amanze, Brendan Fernandes, and Adejoke Tugbiyele.

This summer he co-curated “Postcard from New York—Part II” featuring Adams, Báez, DeVille, Alexandria Smith, Paul Anthony Smith, and William Villalongo at Anna Marra Contemporanea in Rome. He is also co-curator of “Pitch,” Allison Janae Hamilton’s first solo museum show currently on view at Mass MOCA.

After a decade of working independently—curating, writing, and engaging in public conversations with artists—Ossei-Mensah has accepted a staff position at a museum. He was recently named senior curator at the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit (MOCAD).

Born in Harlem and based in the Bronx, Ossei-Mensah brings a broad set of skills to his curatorial practice. His academic studies focused on business. He has an undergraduate degree in management from Clark University and an MBA from Les Roches School in Switzerland. In the years since, he amplified his credentials with advanced training. An alum of the Independent Curators International Curatorial Intensive, he also completed the Stanford Impact Program for Arts Leaders.

He is a co-founder Artnoir which describes itself as a “global collective of culturalists.” Composed of curators, artists, and writers, the group produces events such as talks and performances designed to “engage this generation’s dynamic and diverse creative class.” In May, at National Sawdust in Brooklyn, Artnoir presented “Hear/Here,” the first of what is expected to be a series of “live performative experiences” that featured artist Nina Chanel Abney, musicians, and a poet.

OSSEI-MENSAH BEGINS his new role at MOCAD Sept. 1. He plans to split his time between Detroit and New York. He has said, “I’m looking forward to collaborating with my colleagues at MOCAD to cultivate projects and experiences that not only amplify the magic of Detroit, but also serve as a bridge between the city and the world.”

I asked him about joining the museum in Detroit, where both the city and the art scene are on the rise. By email, he responded to questions about his latest opportunity—what drew him to Michigan’s largest city, working with one institution, and the relative dearth of black male curators.

CULTURE TYPE: After curating independently for a decade, what came first when you were thinking about the next stage of your career, the decision to seek an institutional position or the opportunity to join MOCAD?

LARRY OSSEI-MENSAH: After a decade of working independently as an advocate for artists, across the spectrum, there were a multitude of directions that I reflected upon when I was thinking about the next stage in my career. One was identifying an opportunity that would provide a new challenge, while allowing me to have broader reach via my curatorial practice. Secondly, pinpointing an organization whose culture and ethos was committed to art as a tool for social change. Thirdly, I wanted to be part of building something that would have significant impact on a community.

The Susanne Feld Hilberry Senior Curator role at MOCAD felt like a natural step that would position me to accomplish some of those goals as I enter into the next chapter of my career. I’ve always been committed to working in a manner that is culturally responsive and working hard to utilize contemporary art as a platform to heighten our awareness and understanding not only about the world around us, but also ourselves as individuals. In that sense, this opportunity was a perfect fit and I’m truly grateful.

“There were a multitude of directions that I reflected upon when I was thinking about the next stage in my career. …One was identifying an opportunity that would provide a new challenge, while allowing me to have broader reach via my curatorial practice.”


“Postcard from New York Part II” was curated by Larry Ossei-Mensah and Serena Trizzino at Anna Marra Contemporanea (June 6-July 27, 2018), and featured works by Derrick Adams (left), and Alexandria Smith (2), among others. | Photo by Simon d’Exéa

 

Why MOCAD?

MOCAD has grown into a leading international cultural destination, with a continued focus on diversity and developing the next generation of leaders and professionals—from artists shaping contemporary dialogue via the arts and the future of culture, to young philanthropists and activist supporters championing artistic expression. This opportunity provided a plethora of reasons join the team.

Moreover, the city of Detroit is at an important inflection point and one rarely gets the chance in life to be part of building something truly special in partnership with an amazing community. I couldn’t be more thrilled to join the ranks of likeminded individuals. I feel emboldened, empowered, and embraced by the board, staff and community.

Curatorial posts are incredibly competitive. I am always fascinated by successful curators who have eschewed a traditional art history, museum studies, or fine art education. What made you transition away from your academic background in business to pursue a curatorial career and how has your business experience influenced your current work?

LOM: I wouldn’t say that I’ve moved away from my business background per se, I think that the application of my skill sets has just morphed to fit the needs of my current endeavors and interests. I believe that all my experiences in media, marketing, music, hospitality, etc., serve as building blocks that inform the way I work, cultivate community, collaborate, and view the world.

My previous experiences in a various arenas position me to provide a unique value proposition as a curator that results in the execution of a more holistic and entrepreneurial approach to my practice. When I am preparing for a project, I am thinking about how to seamlessly connect the dots influenced by a multitude of variables like the marketing, PR, programming, and educational components in a quest to cultivate a formula for a successful experience.

My unique path toward a career in curating necessitates the need for me to constantly be a student in a way that helps me keep my hands on the pulse of what is shaping culture. Whether it be via ICI’s curatorial intensive or Stanford’s Impact Program for Arts Leaders, I’m always seeking avenues to satiate my voracious intellectual, artistic and cultural appetite.

“My previous experiences in a various arenas position me to provide a unique value proposition as a curator that results in the execution of a more holistic and entrepreneurial approach to my practice.”


Installation view of Selections by Larry Ossei-Mensah at Elizabeth Dee Gallery, New York, N.Y. (Jan. 21-Feb. 25, 2017). | Photo by Etienne Frossard

 

How will your MOCAD post affect your work with ARTNOIR?

LOM: I’m excited to see how my new post with MOCAD and my work with ARTNOIR will inform each other. ARTNOIR has always been globally minded, and I hope to involve Detroit’s rich arts community in the important dialogue that’s already underway with ARTNOIR’s community of culturalists.

You have worked on projects around the world, how do you envision working in one place—amplifying contemporary art in Detroit and connecting it with the wider art world?

I believe it all starts with listening and being observant to the thoughts, concerns and conversations that are percolating in the city first and foremost. Moreover, identifying how the insights garnered from those activities counterbalance with what is happening in the zeitgeist. Operating at those polarities will serve as a catalyst for a discourse that generates a push and pull that hopefully results in the creation of a variety of unique projects and experiences at the museum.

…I’ll be commuting between New York and Detroit, which I believe will provide varying degrees of perspective allowing me to co-create with my colleagues an expansive discourse that moves past an antiquated notion of regionalism by spotlighting a greater recognition of the fundamental themes, ideas and questions impacting our society.

“I’m looking forward to collaborating with my colleagues at MOCAD to cultivate initiatives that not only amplify the magic of Detroit, but also serve as a bridge between the city and the world.”

One more topic: black male curators. Culture Type regularly documents new appointments of black curators and they are overwhelmingly women. A few more opportunities are opening up in general and programs specifically designed to identify, train, and hire curators of color are receiving foundation grants and being embraced by some museums. (A grant from the Ford Foundation funds two curatorial fellows at MOCAD.) Could you share your experiences in the field with your peers—your thoughts, insights, and observations regarding the presence or lack of black male curators who have established careers or may be in the pipeline?

First, I’m very excited about all the women who’ve been recently appointed to incredible positions and the women who’ve paved the way for all of us including myself in the curatorial field.

There is a lot of work to be done to remedy these challenges. I don’t believe there is one silver bullet that will address this issue, but it will take a variety of strategies (i.e. creating pipelines, exposure to the field as a career option, mentorship, etc.) to increase the presence of black males in the curatorial field. I’ve been blessed to have had a series of wonderful mentors that have consistently encouraged me in my curatorial journey. Moreover, I’m cognizant that in my new role as senior curator at MOCAD that I have an opportunity to inspire a new generation of male curators. CT

 

IMAGES: Top, Installation view of “Allison Janae Hamilton: Pitch” at MASS MoCA, North Adams, Mass. (March 25, 2018-Feb. 2019). | Photo by David Dashiell; At left, Portrait of Larry Ossei-Mensah. | Photo by Andrew Boyle

 

BOOKSHELF
Mass MOCA published a brochure for “Allison Janae Hamilton: Pitch,” which Larry Ossei-Mensah co-curated. Artist Nina Chanel Abney participated in a recent Artnoir “experience.” Her first-ever solo museum exhibition is documented in “Nina Chanel Abney: Royal Flush.” The show debuted last year at the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University and has been traveling. “Royal Flush” opens at the California African American Museum in Los Angeles on Sept. 23.

 


Installation view of Selections by Larry Ossei-Mensah at Elizabeth Dee Gallery, New York, N.Y. (Jan. 21-Feb. 25, 2017). | Photo by Etienne Frossard

 


Installation view of “Allison Janae Hamilton: Pitch” at MASS MoCA, North Adams, Mass. (March 25, 2018-Feb. 2019). | Photo credit by David Dashiell

 


Installation view of “Allison Janae Hamilton: Pitch” at MASS MoCA, North Adams, Mass. (March 25, 2018-Feb. 2019). | Photo by David Dashiell

 


“Lucia Hierro: Mercado” at Elizabeth Dee Gallery, New York, N.Y., curated by Larry Ossei-Mensah (Jan. 27-March 10, 2018). | Photo by Etienne Frossard

 
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