MCA Appoints Michael Darling as New Chief Curator

April 29, 2010 · Print This Article

The MCA Chicago announced today that Michael Darling, modern and contemporary curator at the Seattle Art Museum, will be its new James W. Alsdorf Chief Curator. Darling will leave the Seattle Art Museum, where he’s worked since 2006, in July. Before that Darling worked at L.A.’s Museum of Contemporary Art. Here’s an excerpt from the MCA’s press release:

Madeleine Grynsztejn, Pritzker Director of the Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA), Chicago, announced today that Michael Darling has been appointed the new James W. Alsdorf Chief Curator, concluding a comprehensive international search. Darling is currently the Jon and Mary Shirley Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art at the Seattle Art Museum (SAM) and plans to assume his new responsibilities at the MCA on July 12, 2010.

“Michael Darling is the perfect creative leader to evolve the MCA as a preeminent contemporary art destination in terms of reputation, influence, relevance, and visibility,” said Grynsztejn. “I am looking forward to joining with Michael to realize a compelling new vision for the MCA. We share the same goal to forge an artist-activated platform that engages audiences by producing art, ideas, community, and conversation around the creative process. His exhibitions and acquisitions are always innovative and relevant, yet grounded in a larger art historical framework, and fueled by his distinctive passion, knowledge and integrity.”

Darling said, “I am honored to lead the MCA’s curatorial team and to build on the museum’s momentum. I look forward to actively participating in the cultural community of Chicago — a world-class city with a long-standing appreciation for the vanguard — and balancing a local perspective with a global outlook. I am excited to advance the MCA’s tradition of groundbreaking exhibitions and programming into a 21st-century multidisciplinary museum model.”

And so on, blahbity blahbity press release so on. Although I think this is a fairly boring, business-as-usual kind of pick on the MCA’s part, my view was ameliorated somewhat by reading the glowing praise that respected arts writer Jen Graves of The Stranger has for Darling. She writes:

What distinguished Darling from the others was his genuine commitment to exploring and revealing the connections between here and abroad. He was seemingly at every opening, and his exhibitions and acquisitions reflect that he did not simply live and work here, he thought here.

Grave’s assessment strongly suggests that Darling will not be another “Chicago curator” in name only who dials it in from elsewhere. I’m sure he’ll be good at his job (what constitutes ‘failure’ when it comes to museum curation anyway?), but I find myself caring less and less about who holds what position at big institutions lately. In the three years that I’ve been living in Chicago, I’ve become way more interested in the curatorial programs of Chicago’s college and university spaces and nonprofit art centers, and in the plans and activities of the (relatively) unsung curators and administrators who work there. There’s just more room for interesting failures and fresh insights in those spaces (although they, like any organization, require increased funding, donations, membership and public support to keep doing good work). Maybe it’s just the mood I’m in but…my whole take on the “big news” of today is one big meh.

Michael Darling. Photo by Julian Calder.

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