The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts has hired Valerie Cassel Oliver as its new curator of modern and contemporary art, effective July 7. Oliver is senior curator at Contemporary Arts Museum Houston, where she has been on staff for 16 years, starting as associate curator in 2000. In 2011, Cassel Oliver was the winner of Driskell Prize, given by the High Museum of Art in Atlanta for original and important contribution to the field of African American art or art history.
At VMFA, Cassel Oliver will oversee and help build the museum’s permanent collection, with a focus on acquiring works by African American and artists of the African diaspora. (CAMH is not a collecting institution.) The hiring is an indication of the museum’s strategic plan to increase the diversity of its audience and its holdings.
“Valerie is one of the most dynamic and respected contemporary curators in her field,” said Alex Nyerges, VMFA Director. “She brings an impressive network of contacts from across the arts community, and she has an established record of organizing exhibitions that explore topical themes that resonate with viewers.”
Among the notable exhibitions she curated at CAMH are “Radical Presence: Black Performance in Contemporary Art” (2012), “Double Consciousness: Black Conceptual Art since 1970” (2005); and “Cinema Remixed and Reloaded: Black Women Artists and the Moving Image (2008),” which she co-curated with Spelman Museum of Art director Andrea Barnwell Brownlee.
Oliver’s first exhibition project at VMFA has already been announced: a retrospective for African American artist Howardena Pindell, who in 2015 had a major exhibition at the Spelman Museum. Cassel Oliver is is co-curating the VMFA show with Naomi Beckwith of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago. It is scheduled to open in January 2019.
Sonya Clark, artist and chair of craft and material studies at VCUarts said: “I’ve known Valerie for almost 20 years, and her approach is a model for the art community. She is artist-centered, committed to inclusion, globally connected, and well-respected. Valerie’s appointment as the Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art at the VMFA comes at a pivotal time in our history.”
Cassel Oliver was one of six regional curators invited to organize the 2000 Whitney Biennial, which featured Atlanta artists Kojo Griffin and Robin Bernat, Alabama’s Thornton Dial, and Vernon Fisher of Texas, among others.
Cassel Oliver received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Texas at Austin in 1987, and her master’s degree in art history at Howard University in Washington, D.C. in 1992. In 2009, she was a fellow at the Center for Curatorial Leadership in New York through which she received a certificate in executive management from Columbia University. Prior to CAMH, she directed the Visiting Artists Program at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and was a grant program specialist at the National Endowment for the Arts.