THE SERPENTINE in London has appointed Yesomi Umolu director of curatorial affairs and public practice. In the newly created position, Umolu will lead all of Serpentine’s curatorial, educational, and editorial programming. The news was announced Nov. 18.

Founded in 1970, Serpentine is marking a half century of presenting contemporary art this year and is taking the opportunity to re-focus its priorities. Under Umolu’s direction the curatorial mission will center civic engagement and a more inclusive and accessible audience experience.

It’s a task well-suited to Umolu who has considered and spoken about issues of museum diversity for years.

In response to the protests that spread across the country this summer calling for racial justice and police accountability, she offered a blue print for museums serving as sites of empathy, advocacy, and cultural and art historical knowledge. In June, on artnet News, she published her thoughts under the headline, “On the Limits of Care and Knowledge: 15 Points Museums Must Understand to Dismantle Structural Injustice.”

Announcing Umolu’s appointment at Serpentine Galleries, CEO Bettina Korek and Artistic Director Ulrich Obrist said: “With an excellent record of commissioning interdisciplinary programming, Yesomi brings outstanding ideas and experience to the Serpentine. Yesomi’s appointment reinforces a structural trajectory for the organisation that fuses curatorial affairs and public practice. We are excited to work with her to innovate around centering audience experience and community engagement in all that we do.”

“With an excellent record of commissioning interdisciplinary programming, Yesomi brings outstanding ideas and experience to the Serpentine. Yesomi’s appointment reinforces a structural trajectory for the organisation that fuses curatorial affairs and public practice.”
— Bettina Korek and Ulrich Obrist, The Serpentine

UMOLO’S CURATORIAL PRACTICE spans contemporary art and architecture. She is currently director and curator of Logan Center Exhibitions at the Logan Center for the Arts at the University of Chicago. She recently served as artistic director of the 2019 Chicago Architecture Biennial (2018-2020) and was on the curatorial advisory board for the U.S. Pavilion at the 16th Venice Architecture Biennale (2018).

At the University of Chicago, she teaches courses in contemporary visual art and spacial practices and, over the course of her career, has been a visiting lecturer and critic at many other universities in the United States, UK, and South Africa.

Previously, Umolu was assistant curator at the MSU Broad Museum (2013-15) in East Lansing, Mich. Earlier experiences include serving as curatorial fellow at the Walker Art Center (2011-13) in Minneapolis and curatorial assistant at Manifesta 8, the European Biennial of Contemporary Art in Spain (2010-11).

Her curatorial experience includes organizing solo exhibitions and projects with a number of contemporary artists, including John Akomfrah, Assemble, Mike Cloud, Kapwani Kiwanga, Candice Lin, Harold Mendez, Camille Norment, and Ursula Biemann and Paulo Tavares, among others.

Umolu was born in Nigeria and grew up in London. She earned a masters degree in architectural design from the University of Edinburgh and also holds a masters degree in contemporary art curating from the Royal College of Art in London.

Last year, Serpentine presented Faith Ringgold’s first survey exhibition at a European institution. Jennifer Packer’s first solo show at a European institution opens Dec. 5 at Serpentine. Forthcoming exhibitions are dedicated to British-Ghanaian photographer James Barnor, his first major survey (2021), and UK-based Ghanaian artist Atta Kwami, who won the 2021 Maria Lassnig Prize (2022).

Umolu’s new appointment marks a return to Serpentine, where she was a public programs assistant from 2009-10. She assumes her new leadership role in January 2021.

In a statement, Umolu said she is eager to take on this latest opportunity: “As a Londoner and curator with an interdisciplinary background, I have long admired Serpentine Galleries’ groundbreaking work in supporting innovative ideas across contemporary art, architecture, and civic engagement. I am eager to partner with the Serpentine’s team, its audiences, and artists to envision new forms of creativity and community building that can shepherd us through the profound change facing our city and the world at large.” CT

 

IMAGE: Yesomi Umolu. Photo © Nicolette Nunez, Courtesy Serpentine Galleries

 

FIND MORE about Yesomi Umolu on her website

 

BOOKSHELF
“…And Other Such Stories” was published to accompany the 2019 Chicago Architecture Biennial, for which Yesomi Umolu served as artistic director. Also consider the exhibition catalogs “Kapwani Kiwanga: Structural Adjustments,” “Harold Mendez: The Years Now,” and “Candice Lin, A Hard White Body.”

 

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