Guggenheim Appoints The First Black Deputy Director and Chief Curator In Its 60-Year-History


January 17, 2021

Congratulations are in order!

The Guggenheim recently appointed the first Black deputy director and chief curator in the museum’s 60-year-history, The New York Times reports. 

Naomi Beckwith was just named deputy director and chief curator at the historic Guggenheim Museum, making history as the first Black woman to hold the title. Beckwith holds a master’s from the prestigious Courtauld Institute of Art in London, getting her start as an associate curator at the Studio Museum in Harlem. Since 2011, she has held curatorial posts at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, becoming senior curator in 2018. Now Beckwith is joining the Guggenheim, replacing former director and curator, Nancy Spector. 


Beckwith’s former work includes multidisciplinary offerings exploring issues of identify and innovative exhibitions showcasing the work of avant-garde artist Howardena Pindell, in “The Freedom Principle: Experiments in Art and Music, 1965 to Now” and “Homebodies.” She also worked to spearhead a project with British-Nigerian sculptor Yinka Shonibare, exploring race, colonialism and cultural identity. 

Her appointment represents a shift in power for the Guggenheim, who like many institutions, have been reckoning with their past and future amidst a societal call for racial equity, diversity and inclusion. Beckwith’s experience makes her perfect in this new role, where she will oversee collections, exhibitions, publications, curatorial programs and archives as well as provide strategic direction.

“If you look out over the cultural landscape – particularly in the U.S. – she is quite obviously one of the outstanding leaders of today with a huge potential as well. She’s very adept at issues of identity and particularly, multidisciplinary art. We have to think about the Guggenheim’s growth over the next few years, so it needs to be a person with enormous capacity,” said Richard Armstrong, director at the Guggenheim.


The museum recently hired Ashley James as its first full-time Black curator. James is a former Mellon Curatorial Fellow who has also done work at the Studio Museum in Harlem as well as the Yale University Art Gallery. The work that both women are doing will help to shape the future of the museum while trailblazing a path for other Black curators.

“It’s about the future of the institution. What’s promising is that our staff and our board have committed to that kind of change. So it’s not Naomi alone; it’s Naomi in concert with a large group of people,” Armstrong added. 

Beckwith spoke about her new role, saying, “I would not have taken this position if I did not feel the museum wasn’t doing that healing work, which they are. What I heard clearly from Richard is they are doing the work themselves. They’re simply looking for a partner in that…We preserve art history for future audiences. Now it’s clear that a museum’s job is not to just preserve art history, but to preserve multiple art histories.”


Congratulations Naomi!

Photo Courtesy of Nathan Keay/MCA Chicago

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