Allston Delay Prompts Museum Curator To Leave Harvard

With the plans for Harvard’s new contemporary art museum in Allston currently up in the air, Harvard Art Museum’s curator of contemporary art Helen Molesworth will leave Harvard to become the chief curator at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston, ICA officials announced earlier this month.

Molesworth, who came to Harvard in 2007, said she was drawn to the Harvard curator position because of the proposed new museum, but decided to apply for the ICA position after she realized that Harvard’s plans would not move forward for several years.

“It’s become clear that the University has a very, very long-term plan for Allston. It won’t happen in my professional lifetime,” she said.

Molesworth said the new museum would have had ample space to feature the large-scale displays in which she specializes, but these exhibitions are more difficult to put on in Harvard’s current space.

“It’s as if I were a scientist, and all of a sudden they weren’t going to build a lab,” she said. “I am disappointed, but I also think that the world is a complicated place and we’re living through an extremely difficult financial crisis. It’s just not the right time in terms of my career and Harvard.”

While Molesworth has organized two small shows annually for Harvard, she will be responsible for nine large exhibitions per year at the ICA.

“At the ICA they have a very ambitious exhibition program,” she said. “There are many more opportunities. There’s more space, and all of the space at the ICA is for contemporary art.”

Despite her departure, Molesworth said she will continue her ties to Harvard and hopes to start an internship program for Harvard students at the ICA.

As Harvard’s first curator of contemporary art since the Art Museum established a department dedicated to the field in 1997, Molesworth made an “important and fundamental” impact, Art Museum Director Thomas W. Lentz wrote in an e-mailed statement.

“She will be missed, but our commitment to modern and contemporary art is unwavering and continues across several curatorial departments here at the Art Museum,” Lentz wrote.

While the future of the Allston museum remains uncertain, the Art Museum plans to expand its emphasis on contemporary art with a 4,000 sq. ft. permanent space in the renovated building on Quincy St., which is slated to open in 2013, according to Daron J. Manoogian, the Art Museum’s director of communications.

“It’s not as if that project we were planning in Allston was the sole venue for contemporary art,” Manoogian said.

Lentz added that the Art Museum will begin a search for Molesworth’s replacement soon but did not specify a time frame.

—Staff writer Stephanie B. Garlock can be reached at sgarlock@college.harvard.edu.

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