Helen Molesworth to leave ICA

ICA chief curator Helen Molesworth is leaving for a position at the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art.
Suzanne Kreiter/Globe Staff/File
ICA chief curator Helen Molesworth is leaving for a position at the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art.

Helen Molesworth, the chief curator at Boston’s Institute of Contemporary Art for the past four years, has been appointed chief curator at the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art. She will take up the position in the fall, but will continue to oversee preparations for her final ICA show, an ambitious survey of artists connected to Black Mountain College in North Carolina.

Molesworth (inset), who came to the ICA from Harvard Art Museums, has been responsible for a series of critically acclaimed group and solo shows at the ICA, including “Dance/Draw,” “This Will Have Been: Art, Love, and Politics in the 1980s,” and “Amy Sillman: One Lump or Two.” She has also helped to grow the ICA’s fledgling permanent collection.

Boston’s loss should be Los Angeles’s gain. Recently beleaguered by financial problems, board turmoil, and the brief, unhappy tenure of dealer-turned-director Jeffrey Deitch, LA MoCA appointed a new director, Frenchman Philippe Vergne, in March.


Despite its recent troubles, LA MoCA remains one of the most storied contemporary art museums in the world. “It has one of the best collections of post-World War II art in the country,” says Molesworth, “and an incredible record of ambitious and groundbreaking exhibitions.” A recent boost means that it also has a $100 million endowment.

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Vergne’s mandate is to consolidate both the finances and the institution’s mission. His appointment of Molesworth, one of the country’s most esteemed contemporary curators, will be seen as an auspicious step.

On the phone from Los Angeles, he was audibly delighted. “Helen always puts the artist and the institution before herself,” he said. “She has an incredible knowledge of art history, and she has done shows that have caused people to re-think art history.”

“Artists trust her,” he concluded. “And that’s good.”

ICA director Jill Medvedow learned of the appointment on Tuesday. Her initial response was to check that Molesworth’s decision was firm, and then to wish her well.


“It’s Helen’s dream job,” she said. “It’s her dream to work with a postwar collection that’s so strong and in a place that’s so full of artists and art schools.”

“Bringing Helen to the ICA was a great move for the ICA,” she added. “She made a big contribution in a four-year period that was pivotal in the ICA’s transformation.”

For her part, Molesworth described her impending departure as “bittersweet.” She was full of praise for Medvedow: “Jill built this incredible building which galvanized support for contemporary art in this city. She let me play in it.

“I organized one major show a year, it was an incredible pace, but I was able to do that because of the incredible support I got. The building is ambitious, and it draws out ambition in others.”

Sebastian Smee can be reached at