THE UNDERGROUND MUSEUM in Los Angeles announced the appointment of Meg Onli as director and curator. She joins the museum from the Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA) at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, where she served as associate curator.

Onli is taking on a co-leadership role at the Black-founded museum with Cristina Pacheco. A nonprofit leader, Pacheco is The UM’s new director and chief operations officer. She has been a member of the museum’s board since 2015 and transitioned to co-interim director and COO in 2020, before her current appointment. Onli officially starts Dec. 1.

“A decade ago, The Underground Museum was a dream. Now, it has become a global phenomenon that has inspired other institutions to take chances and live outside their boxes. Our aspiration is that as we scale, we are able to maintain what makes this space feel different, to continue to be mindful about what it means to care about the people who are attached to it, and to be guided—first and foremost—by the art itself,” Karon Davis, co-founder of The Underground Museum, said in a statement.

“Meg and Cristina bring the vision, collaboration, and efficacy to bring The Underground Museum to the next level. With this new powerhouse team, our bigger dreams will be realized. I’m so excited for everyone to see what we have in store for our community and the larger art world.”

“Meg and Cristina bring the vision, collaboration, and efficacy to bring The Underground Museum to the next level. With this new powerhouse team, our bigger dreams will be realized. I’m so excited for everyone to see what we have in store for our community and the larger art world.”
— Karon Davis, Co-Founder of The Underground Museum

ONLI IS A CURATOR AND WRITER. With a focus on conceptual art, video, and performance, her practice explores the complexities of race, Black language, and the production of space.

In 2016, Onli was named assistant curator at ICA Philadelphia. She was promoted to Andrea B. Laporte Associate Curator in 2019. During her tenure at ICA, Onli curated “Speech/Acts” (2017) and “Colored People Time” (2019). An exhibition presented in three “chapters,” the show was envisioned as “a profound exploration into the banal and everyday ways in which the history of slavery and colonialism permeates the present and impacts the future.”

Onli co-curated the first major retrospective of Ulysses Jenkins with Erin Christovale, associate curator at the Hammer Museum. Los Angeles-based Jenkins is a groundbreaking video and performance artist. Spanning five decades, “Ulysses Jenkins: Without Your Interpretation” is currently on view at ICA and will travel to the Hammer in February.

Forthcoming at ICA in 2023, Onli is co-curating an exhibition dedicated to artist and writer Jessica Vaughn, with Pavel Pyś, curator of visual arts at the Walker Art Center.

Prior to ICA, Onli was the program coordinator at the Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts in Chicago.

In 2020, she founded Art for Philadelphia and raised more than $100,000 through the initiative for community-led abolitionist organizations in the city. Earlier this year, she won the inaugural Figure Skating Prize, an annual award recognizing Black artists, curators, and art scholars who are advancing racial justice and equity in the arts.

Onli received a BFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (2008) and earned master’s degree in art history from the Courtauld Institute of Art in London. During the 2020-21 academic year, she was a visiting professor in the gradate art history program at Williams College.

FOUNDED BY ARTISTS Noah and Karon Davis in 2012, The Underground Museum opened in a series of four storefronts with a vision toward showcasing museum-quality art in their Arlington Heights neighborhood, a Black and Latinx community. Three years later, Noah died from a rare cancer at age 32. Karon has pressed forward with the nonprofit arts and culture space, working in partnership with artist and filmmaker Kahlil Joseph, Noah’s older brother.

In a statement, Joseph said: “It’s exciting to bring Meg into our orbit. Noah would have been deeply inspired by Meg’s brilliant mind. At this point, she could have gone anywhere but chose to join The Underground Museum because we are deeply committed to giving her voice the space it deserves.”

“It’s exciting to bring Meg into our orbit. Noah would have been deeply inspired by Meg’s brilliant mind. At this point, she could have gone anywhere but chose to join The Underground Museum because we are deeply committed to giving her voice the space it deserves.” — Kahlil Joseph

Announcing the appointments of Onli and Cristina Pacheco, the museum described the introduction of a co-leadership structure as coinciding with “a moment of evolution for The UM, as it deepens its local focus but also extends its vision on a national and international level.”

The Underground Museum remains closed temporarily due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In January, the museum will reopen, after a nearly two-year hiatus, with a long-delayed, special exhibition dedicated to the paintings of Noah Davis, organized by Helen Molesworth. A version of the exhibition first opened at David Zwirner in New York in January 2020 and is currently on view at David Zwirner in London. The presentation is the first solo exhibition of Davis outside the United States.

Less than two weeks ago, the museum announced three recipients of the new Noah Davis Prize. Curators Candice Hopkins, Jamillah James, and Thomas Jean Lax are the inaugural winners of the prize supported by the Chanel Culture Fund. Each will receive $25,000 and participate in a curatorial symposium at the museum in spring 2022.

Onli is looking forward to playing a pivotal role in The Underground Museum’s next chapter. In a statement, she said: “The Underground Museum is part of a rich legacy of Los Angeles spaces founded by Black and Brown artists who decentered whiteness and fostered communities of groundbreaking artists. I have been a longtime admirer of The UM and of Noah and Karon’s mission, and am honored to be trusted to co-lead this institution with Cristina. To be doing the work that I love within a museum that aligns with my own ideals of art and community—which are not separate, but intricately connected—is a dream.” CT

 

IMAGE: Portrait of Meg Onli. | Photo by Marcus Maddox

 

BOOKSHELF
The exhibition catalogs “Colored People Time” and “Speech/Acts” accompanied the coinciding exhibitions. “Jessica Vaughn: Our Primary Focus Is to Be Successful” is forthcoming soon. Meanwhile, “Ulysses Jenkins: Without Your Interpretation,” the artist’s first monograph is expected in January.

 

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