CHISENHALE GALLERY in London’s East End has hired Zoé Whitley as its next leader. An American-born curator, over nearly two decades, Whitley has built a formidable career based in London, producing insightful, innovative, and inclusive exhibitions and programming at major UK museums and galleries.

Whitley has been serving as senior curator at Hayward Gallery since April 2019. Previously, she was international curator at Tate Modern, where she co-curated the landmark exhibition “Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power.” Whitley joins Chisenhale as director in March.

Describing itself as a “small and very special visual arts organisation with a proud 37-year history of championing experimentation and innovation,” Chisenhale posted the position in November. The announcement stated: “We are seeking an inspirational Director with a dynamic and original vision for the gallery. This is a fantastic opportunity for a gifted and committed individual to shape the future of one of London’s most compelling forums for contemporary art.”

Searching for a dynamic, visionary, gifted, and committed leader, the gallery selected Whitley. In a statement regarding her appointment, Alice Rawsthorn, chair of Chisenhale Gallery’s Board of Trustees, said: “We are thrilled that Zoé is to be the next director of Chisenhale Gallery. Her exceptional record as a curator and as a champion of cultural diversity and inclusivity equip her brilliantly for the role. We look forward to working with Zoé as she sustains Chisenhale’s rich history of experimentation by delivering a dynamic new vision for the gallery.”

“Her exceptional record as a curator and as a champion of cultural diversity and inclusivity equip her brilliantly for the role. We look forward to working with Zoé as she sustains Chisenhale’s rich history of experimentation by delivering a dynamic new vision for the gallery.”
— Alice Rawsthorn, Chisenhale Gallery

LAST YEAR, Whitley joined Hayward Gallery at Southbank Centre, where she has two forthcoming exhibitions. In May, she is presenting works by American filmmaker and multimedia artist Cauleen Smith in the HENI Project Space. “Reverb: Sound into Art” opens June 24 and features 14 artists including Kahlil Joseph, Christine Sun Kim, and Camille Norment.

Whitley held several posts at Tate Britain and Tate Modern, from 2013 to 2019. Most notably, during her tenure, she co-authored Tate’s Africa Acquisitions strategy and co-curated with Mark Godfrey, “Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power” (July 12-Sept. 22, 2017).

Showcasing about 60 artists active between 1963 and 1983, the touring exhibition features more than 200 works of art by Emma Amos, Romare Bearden, Elizabeth Catlett, Emory Douglas, Sam Gilliam, David Hammons, Barkley L. Hendricks, Wadsworth Jarrell, Noah Purifoy, Faith Ringgold, Betye Saar, Jack Whitten, AfriCOBRA, and photographers from the Kamoinge Workshop, among many others.

After opening at Tate Modern, “Soul of a Nation” traveled to the United States where it was presented at the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Ark., the Brooklyn Museum, The Broad in Los Angeles, and the de Young Museum in San Francisco, where it is currently on view.

BEFORE JOINING TATE, Whitley served for 10 years in curatorial roles at the Victoria & Albert Museum. As an independent curator, she co-organized with Naima Keith, “The Shadows Took Shape” (Nov. 14, 2013 – March 9, 2014) at the Studio Museum in Harlem.

Whitley attended Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania and received a master’s degree in the history of design from the Royal College of Art in London. More recently, she earned a Ph.D. from The Centre for Contemporary Art at the University of Central Lancashire, where she was supervised by artist and scholar Lubaina Himid, winner of the 2017 Turner Prize.

The British Council selected Whitley to curate the British Pavilion at the 58th Venice Biennale in 2019. She presented a solo show of new sculptural installations, paintings, and prints by Irish artist Cathy Wilkes. A major achievement, Whitley is the first African American curator to organize a national pavilion.

At Chisenhale, Whitley is succeeding Polly Staple, who had led the gallery since 2008.

“I’ve been inspired by Chisenhale Gallery’s programme since I first became a curator. I’m honoured to have been selected to lead its next chapter as Director and excited by the challenges and possibilities for artistic collaborations to come,” Whitley said in a statement.

“I plan to build upon Chisenhale’s reputation for risk-taking and timeliness, which was synonymous with Polly’s leadership. I am dedicated to working with artists at pivotal stages in their careers; and to ensuring Chisenhale’s future programme breaks new ground creatively and resonates publicly.” CT

 

TOP IMAGE: Curator Zoé Whitley | Photo by James Gifford Mead

 

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BOOKSHELF
Co-authored by Zoé Whitley, “Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power” documents the landmark traveling exhibition organized by Tate Modern in London. Whitley is the author of “Cathy Wilkes,” which accompanied the British Pavilion exhibition at the 58th Venice Biennale, and “Meet the Artist: Frank Bowling,” a children’s book. She has co-authored exhibition catalogs including “Frank Bowling Traingone” and “The Shadows Took Shape,” which considers how Afrofuturist aesthetics inform contemporary art. Whitley has also contributed to a number of recently published volumes, including “Lubaina Himid: Workshop Manual,” “Roy DeCarava: Light Break,” John Akomfrah,” “Frank Bowling: Mappa Mundi,” and “Barbara Jones-Hogu: Resist, Relate, Unite.”

 

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