THE NATIONAL GALLERY OF ART in Washington, D.C., announced UCLA art historian Steven Nelson has been selected as the next dean of the Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts (CASVA). Founded in 1979, CASVA is the museum’s research institute.

Currently serving as the Andrew W. Mellon Professor at CASVA (2018–2020), Nelson is on leave from the University of California, Los Angeles, where he is a professor of African and African American art history and director of the UCLA African Studies Center.

As dean of CASVA, Nelson will be an executive officer at the National Gallery of Art. The museum has seven equal-ranking executive officers and Nelson, who is Black, is the first non-white person in the museum’s nearly 80-year history to hold one of the posts.

In his new role, Nelson will participate in policymaking and setting strategic objectives for CASVA, as well as the museum. In addition to his leadership, scholarship and fundraising responsibilities, Nelson will foster and advance all CASVA programs. He begins his tenure at CASVA in July.

“I am so pleased that Steven Nelson will be our next dean of CASVA. Steven’s teaching legacy and international scholarly reputation in the field of art history, combined with his remarkable ability to provide support for a wide-ranging community of scholars makes him the perfect fit. This position requires collaboration and intellectual leadership on an international level as well as cultivating a new and diverse generation of art historians, curators, and scholars, and Steven does that beautifully,” Kaywin Feldman, director of the National Gallery of Art, said in a statement.

“This position requires collaboration and intellectual leadership on an international level as well as cultivating a new and diverse generation of art historians, curators, and scholars, and Steven does that beautifully.”
— National Gallery of Art Director Kaywin Feldman

NELSON’S BROAD ACADEMIC BACKGROUND includes award-winning scholarship and expertise in teaching, administration, and fundraising. He has been a professor at UCLA since 2000. He was a visiting scholar at the Universidad de los Andes in Bogotá, Colombia, and the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales in Paris, both in 2018.

The inaugural speaker at the Richard D. Cohen Lectures on African and African American Art at Harvard University (2013), Nelson discussed “Mapping Blackness in African and Afro-Atlantic Art.”

His scholarly writing has focused on contemporary and historic art, architecture, urbanism of Africa and its diasporas, African American art history, and queer studies. In 2007, he published “From Cameroon to Paris: Mousgoum Architecture In and Out of Africa.”

During his tenure as Andrew W. Mellon Professor at CASVA, Nelson has completed manuscripts for two new books: “Structural Adjustment: Mapping, Geography, and the Visual Cultures of Blackness” and “On the Underground Railroad.” In addition, he is co-editing a volume titled “The Black Modernisms Seminars.” The project is part of CASVA’s initiative on African American art and will be published in 2021.

He has also participated in public programming at a variety of institutions during his time at CASVA. Nelson was in conversation with Glenn Ligon discussing “To be a Negro in this country is really never to be looked at,” the artist’s exhibition at the de la Cruz Art Gallery at Georgetown University (April 1, 2019). He gave a lecture titled “Mark Bradford: Counterfeit Abstraction” at Duke University (April 15, 2019) and the College of William and Mary (Feb. 6, 2020).

Celebrating the publication of “Among Others: Blackness at MoMA,” Nelson moderated a panel discussion at MoMA PS1 with co-author Darby English, artists Howardena Pindell and Fred Wilson, and curator Ann Temkin (Sept. 8, 2019).

Nelson holds a BA in studio art from Yale University (1985), and earned AM (1994) and Ph.D., degrees in art history from Harvard University (1998).

CASVA FUNDS RESEARCH FELLOWSHIPS, presents a series of lectures and meetings, and supports scholarly publications. Recent programs have included the 2019 Wyeth Lecture delivered by Columbia University art historian Kellie Jones last November. In 2017, CASVA presented The African American Art World in Twentieth-Century Washington, D.C., a two-day symposium that featured a panel discussion with eight artists, including David C. Driskell, Sam Gilliam, Martin Puryear, Sylvia Snowden, and Lou Stovall.

Nelson is succeeding Elizabeth Cropper, who will retire in late May 2020. He joins CASVA as the third dean in the center’s history.

“I look forward to facilitating the rigorous scholarship that has been a hallmark at CASVA while aiding the advancement of the Gallery’s vision for a more inclusive definition of its collections and stronger connections with communities in Washington and beyond,” Nelson said in a statement.

“The Gallery is going in stimulating new directions. I see CASVA’s dean as a primary partner in its provocative transformation.” CT


UPDATED (07.31.20) to reflect the historic nature of Nelson’s appointment


IMAGE: Steven Nelson. | © 2020 Board of Trustees – National Gallery of Art Washington


FIND MORE about Steven Nelson on his website


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