Helen Molesworth

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Helen Anne Molesworth (born 1966, Chickasaw, Alabama) is an American curator of contemporary art.


She was the Chief Curator at The Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA), Los Angeles, 2014–2018.[1] After her arrival in Los Angeles in 2014 she reinstalled MOCA's permanent collection galleries, co-organized a survey exhibition of Kerry James Marshall that traveled to Chicago, New York, and Los Angeles, organized Anna Maria Maiolino’s first US retrospective, and forged a partnership between MOCA and The Underground Museum.[2] Her final exhibition at MOCA was a 2018 exhibition One Day at a Time: Manny Farber and Termite Art, which traced the legacy of Farber's "termite art" ideology on a wide range of contemporary artists, including many from Molesworth's own curatorial history.[3] From 2010 to 2014 she was the Barbara Lee Chief Curator at the Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA) Boston, where she assembled one person exhibitions of artists Steve Locke, Catherine Opie, Josiah McElheny, and Amy Sillman, and the group exhibitions Leap Before You Look: Black Mountain College 1933–1957,[4] Dance/Draw,[5] and This Will Have Been: Art, Love & Politics in the 1980s.[6] As head of the Department of Modern and Contemporary Art at the Harvard University Art Museums, she presented an exhibition of photographs by Moyra Davey and ACT UP NY: Activism, Art, and the AIDS Crisis 1987–1993. From 2002 to 2007 she was the Chief Curator of Exhibitions at the Wexner Center for the Arts where she organized the first US retrospectives of Louise Lawler and Luc Tuymans, as well as Part Object Part Sculpture, which examined the influence of Marcel Duchamp's erotic objects. While Curator of Contemporary Art at The Baltimore Museum of Art from 2000 to 2002, she arranged Work Ethic, which traced the problem of artistic labor in post-1960s art. She is the author of numerous catalogue essays and her writing has appeared in publications such as Artforum, Art Journal, Documents, and October. The recipient of the 2011 Bard Center for Curatorial Studies Award for Curatorial Excellence, she is currently at work on a book about "what art does."

In March 2018, Helen Molesworth was abruptly fired from MOCA Los Angeles, due to what MOCA called "creative differences."[7] Catherine Opie, a MOCA board member, reported that museum director Philippe Vergne had said he fired Molesworth for "undermining the museum."[8] Molesworth has long spoken publicly about the lack of diversity and equity in art institutions and the difficulties she has encountered in mounting exhibitions by non-male artists and artists of color—in a lecture to the UCLA Design Media Arts department on January 18, 2018, she said: “I don’t think there’s any way for MOCA to not be a white space. Not gonna happen. The DNA is too deep. We don’t have anyone of color on our board. Let’s start right there.”[9] Her departure left the art world in an uproar. In a 2019 Cultured Magazine article by Sarah Thornton, Moleswoth said of the incident: “It was a total debacle."[10]

Molesworth was the commencement speaker for the UCLA School of the Arts and Architecture in June 2018.[11] Since 2019, she has been the "Curator in Residence" at the Anderson Ranch Arts Center in Colorado.[12]

In 2021, she curated the exhibition "Feedback" at the Jack Shainman gallery The School in Kinderhook, NY (housed in a former high school). The 21-artist show examined the history taught in American schools through the issues left insufficiently addressed in educational curricula, most notably race, and continues Molesworth's critique of institutional spaces and power structures.[13]

Selected exhibitions[edit]

Selected publications[edit]

  • ONE DAY AT A TIME: Manny Farber and Termite Art, Molesworth, Helen. Prestel, 2018.[18]
  • Duchamp: By Hand, Even, Molesworth, Helen. Wien Verlag für Moderne Kunst, 2017.[19]
  • Leap Before you Look : Black Mountain College, 1933-1957, Molesworth, Helen. Boston: Institute of Contemporary Art in association with Yale University Press, 2015.[20]
  • Molesworth, Helen. "How to Install Art as a Feminist." Modern Women: Women Artists at The Museum of Modern Art. Ed. Connie Butler, Ed. Alexandra Schwartz. Published by The Museum of Modern Art, New York. 2014.[21]
  • Amy Sillman: One Lump or Two, Molesworth, Helen. New York: DelMonico Books Prestel, 2013.[22]
  • Louise Lawler, Molesworth, Helen. Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 2013.[23]
  • Klara Lidén Bodies of Society, Molesworth, Helen. New York: New Museum, 2012.[24]
  • This Will Have Been: Art, Love & Politics in the 1980s, Molesworth, Helen. Chicago: Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago; New Haven: Yale University Press, 2012.[25]
  • Catherine Opie: Empty and Full, Molesworth, Helen, ed. Stuttgart: Hatje Cantz, 2011.[26]
  • Dance/Draw: The Institute of Contemporary Art Boston, Molesworth, Helen. Ostfildern: Hatje Cantz, 2011.[27]
  • Luc Tuymans exh. cat. Palais des beaux-arts de Bruxelles, 18 février-8 mai 2011, Molesworth, Helen. Bruxelles: Ludion, DL 2011.[28]
  • Part Object Part Sculpture, Molesworth, Helen, ed., Penn State Press, 2005.[29]
  • Body Space, Molesworth, Helen. Baltimore Museum of Art, 2001.[30]
  • Work Ethic, Molesworth, Helen. Baltimore Museum of Art, 2003.[31]


  1. ^ Cascone, Sarah (2014-05-30). "Helen Molesworth Hired as Chief Curator of LA MOCA". Artnet News (in American English). Retrieved 2021-09-30.
  2. ^ "An unassuming storefront. A major museum. A collaboration that takes museum art to the people of L.A." Los Angeles Times (in American English). 2015-07-20. Retrieved 2021-09-30.
  3. ^ Almino, Elisa Wouk (2018-11-14). "Helen Molesworth's Last MOCA Exhibition Is an Act of Love". Hyperallergic (in American English). Retrieved 2021-09-30.
  4. ^ "Richard Deming on "Leap Before You Look: Black Mountain College 1933–1957"". www.artforum.com (in American English). Retrieved 2021-09-30.
  5. ^ ""Dance/Draw" at ICA - Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston". www.artforum.com (in American English). Retrieved 2021-09-30.
  6. ^ Molesworth, Helen; Burton, Johanna; Grace, Claire, Museum of Contemporary Art (Chicago, Ill.), Institute of Contemporary Art (Boston, Mass.), Walker Art Center (2012). This will have been: art, love & politics in the 1980s. ISBN 978-0-300-18110-4. OCLC 759174324.
  7. ^ "MOCA fires its chief curator". Los Angeles Times (in American English). 2018-03-13. Retrieved 2021-09-30.
  8. ^ "MOCA fires its chief curator". Los Angeles Times (in American English). 2018-03-13. Retrieved 2021-09-30.
  9. ^ Douglas, Sarah (2018-03-21). "Prior to Her Firing, Curator Helen Molesworth Made Public Statements Critical of Museum Practices, MOCA". ARTnews.com (in American English). Retrieved 2021-09-30.
  10. ^ "Curator Helen Molesworth Returns to the Stage With Something to Say". Cultured Magazine (in American English). 2019-02-12. Retrieved 2019-03-17.
  11. ^ "UCLA Arts: School of the Arts and Architecture". UCLA Arts: School of the Arts and Architecture. Retrieved 2019-04-20.
  13. ^ Heinrich, Will (2021-08-12). "Teaching a New Inclusiveness at The School". The New York Times (in American English). ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2021-09-30.
  14. ^ Steadman, Ryan (February 2, 2016). "One of the Great American Artists Gets an American Retrospective". Retrieved 10 April 2016.
  15. ^ Miranda, Carolina A (January 8, 2016). "9 ways in which Helen Molesworth's permanent collection show at MOCA is upending the story of art". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on January 9, 2016. Retrieved 10 April 2016.
  16. ^ Westin, Monica (February 16, 2012). "The MCA's "This Will Have Been" and the Subjectivity of History". Art21. Retrieved 10 April 2016.
  18. ^ MOLESWORTH, HELEN (2018). ONE DAY AT A TIME: manny farber and termite art. S.l.: PRESTEL ART. ISBN 978-3791357669. OCLC 1020312076.
  19. ^ Molesworth, Helen; Banz, Stefan; Edition KMD (2017). Helen Molesworth Duchamp: By hand, even. ISBN 9783903153981. OCLC 1008599377.
  20. ^ Molesworth, Helen Anne; Erickson, Ruth (2016). Leap before you look: Black Mountain College, 1933-1957. Boston; Boston, Mass.; New Haven, Conn.; London: Institute of contemporary art in association with Yale University press(IS) Institute of contemporary art ; Yale University press. ISBN 9780300211917. OCLC 982274467.
  21. ^ Butler, Cornelia H; Schwartz, Alexandra (2010). Modern women: women artists at the Museum of Modern Art. New York: Museum of Modern Art : Distributed in the U.S. and Canada by D.A.P./Distributed Art Publishers. ISBN 9780870707711.
  22. ^ Molesworth, Helen (2013). Amy Sillman: one lump or two. New York: DelMonico Books (Prestel). OCLC 950233366.
  23. ^ Molesworth, Helen (2013). Louise Lawler. Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press. ISBN 9780262018814. OCLC 858000815.
  24. ^ Molesworth, Helen; Gioni, Massimiliano; Moore, Jenny; Rist, Pipilotti; New Museum of Contemporary Art (New York, N.Y.) (2012). Klara Lidén bodies of society. New York, N.Y: New Museum. ISBN 9780985448523. OCLC 901443271.
  25. ^ Molesworth, Helen Anne; Ward, Frazer; Mercer, Kobena; Burton, Johanna; Lebovici, Elisabeth; Horrigan, Bill; Schulman, Sarah (2012). This will have been: art, love, & politics in the 1980s. Chicago; London; New Haven (Conn.): Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago ; Yale University Press. ISBN 9780300181104.
  26. ^ Opie, Catherine (2011). Empty and full. Ostfildern: Hatje Cantz Verl. ISBN 9783775730150. OCLC 741701119.
  27. ^ Molesworth, Helen (2011). Dance/Draw: the Institute of Contemporary Art Boston. Ostfildern: Hatje Cantz. ISBN 9783775731638. OCLC 972017383.
  28. ^ Molesworth, Helen; Grynsztein, Madeleine; Palais des beaux-arts (Bruxelles) (2011). Luc Tuymans [exposition, Palais des beaux-arts de Bruxelles, 18 février-8 mai 2011 (in French). Bruxelles: Ludion. ISBN 9789055447725. OCLC 758373350.
  29. ^ Molesworth, Helen; Wexner Center for the Arts (Columbus, OH) (2005). Part object, part sculpture. Columbus, OH; University Park, PA: Wexner Center for the Arts, The Ohio State University ; Pennsylvania State University Press. ISBN 0271028556. OCLC 907144433.
  30. ^ Molesworth, Helen; Baltimore Museum of Art (2001). Bodyspace. Baltimore: Baltimore Museum of Art. OCLC 272520549.
  31. ^ Molesworth, Helen; Alexander, M. Darsie; Bryan-Wilson, Julia; Baltimore Museum of Art (2003). Work ethic. Baltimore [etc: Baltimore Museum of Art [etc. ISBN 0271023341. OCLC 932548046.