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Ryan N. Dennis is Joining Contemporary Arts Museum Houston as Senior Curator and Director of Public Initiatives

 

CONTEMPORARY ARTS MUSEUM HOUSTON (CAMH) announced Ryan N. Dennis is joining its curatorial team as senior curator and director of public initiatives. The appointment is a homecoming. Dennis was born in Houston, educated at the University of Houston, where she has also taught, and spent more than half of her burgeoning curatorial career in the city.

Dennis currently serves as chief curator and artistic director of the Center for Art & Public Exchange at the Mississippi Museum of Art (MMA) in Jackson, where she co-curated the critically recognized traveling exhibition “A Movement in Every Direction: Legacies of the Great Migration.” Dennis officially starts at Contemporary Arts Museum Houston in June.

 


Curator Ryan N. Dennis. | Photo by Charles A. Smith

 

News of her appointment was announced along with two recent curatorial promotions at CAMH. Rebecca Matalon rose from curator to senior curator, effective November 2022. Patricia Restrepo, who joined the museum in 2014, has been elevated to curator after previously serving as assistant curator and exhibitions manager.

“CAMH is thrilled to recognize the extraordinary talents of our curatorial team and expand upon them,” CAMH Executive Director Hesse McGraw said in a statement. “Ryan Dennis’s 10-year tenure in Houston at Project Row Houses and the Menil Collection is legendary, and it’s an honor to welcome her back to the city through this role. Ryan is a leading national curatorial voice whose work uniquely bridges artists and communities with institutions.”

Dennis joined the Mississippi Museum of Art in 2020. In addition to working on a solo exhibition of Betye Saar and a public art installation with Leonardo Drew, her crowning achievement is “A Movement in Every Direction: Legacies of the Great Migration,” the highly regarded exhibition she co-curated with Jessica Bell Brown, curator and department head for contemporary art at the Baltimore Museum of Art.

The show features commissioned works by 12 celebrated artists, including Mark Bradford, Theaster Gates, Robert Pruitt, and Carrie Mae Weems. Their works evoke personal connections and speak to the context and genesis of the Great Migration of African Americans from the U.S. South to North (from about 1915 to 1970) and its many legacies that shape contemporary life.

After opening at MMA and traveling to the Baltimore Museum of Art, the exhibition is currently on view at the Brooklyn Museum in New York, and will continue on to the California African American Museum in Los Angeles and UC Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive.

“Ryan Dennis’s 10-year tenure in Houston at Project Row Houses and the Menil Collection is legendary, and it’s an honor to welcome her back to the city through this role.” — CAMH Executive Director Hesse McGraw

 

DENNIS PREVIOUSLY SERVED as curator and programs director at Project Row Houses (PRJ), a groundbreaking public art organization that operates at the intersection of art, community, and neighborhood revitalization in Houston’s Third Ward, a mostly African American neighborhood. PRH activates shotgun row houses as exhibition spaces and sites for programming.

During her tenure at PRJ (2012-2020), Dennis worked with more than 100 artists; launched the 2:2:2 Exchange Residency Program with the Hyde Park Art Center in Chicago; created Project/Site, a temporary, site-specific, commission-based public art program; and established the CASE-PRH Fellowship with the Center for Art and Social Engagement at the University of Houston’s Kathrine G. McGovern College of the Arts.

In prior positions, Dennis was the traveling exhibition manager at the Museum for African Art in New York (now The Africa Center) and a curatorial assistant at The Menil Collection in Houston (2007‒2009). She received an undergraduate degree from the University of Houston and went on to earn a master’s degree in arts and cultural management from Pratt Institute, with a focus in curatorial practice.

In 2021, Dennis co-curated the Texas Biennial, presenting the work of more than 50 Texas artists in museums and art spaces spread across San Antonio and in collaboration with FotoFest in Houston.

CAMH is a non-collecting museum, that describes itself as being “focused on the art of our time.” Beyond its museum exhibitions, over the past few years the institution has sought to expand its curatorial reach to broader audiences by partnering with local organizations on civic projects and public art initiatives, priorities that mirror Dennis’s dual role at MMA and mesh with her experience producing both formal exhibitions and community-centered programming.

The CAMH announcement said: “With years of experience working in direct collaboration with diverse communities, Dennis will provide curatorial vision and initiate opportunities and support for artists working beyond the walls of the Museum.” CT

 

FIND MORE about Ryan N. Dennis on her website

 

Co-curated by Ryan N. Dennis, “A Movement in Every Direction: Legacies of the Great Migration” is on view at the Brooklyn Museum in New York, through June 25. Next, the exhibition is headed to California African American Museum in Los Angeles (Aug. 5, 2023–March 3, 2024) and UC Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (BAMPFA) in California (Spring 2024), with additional venues expected to be announced

FIND MORE a brief video from the Baltimore Museum of Art provides a preview of “A Movement in Every Direction”

 

BOOKSHELF
“A Movement in Every Direction: Legacies of the Great Migration” was published on the occasion of the traveling exhibition co-curated by Ryan N. Dennis and Jessica Bell Brown. The catalog includes essays by Kiese Laymon, Jessica Lynne, Sharifa Rhodes-Pitts, and Willie Jamaal Wright. A second volume was also produced to accompany the traveling exhibition. “A Movement in Every Direction: A Great Migration Critical Reader” features historic writings by authors such as W. E. B. Du Bois and Jean Toomer, alongside contemporary texts by Toni Tipton-Martin, among others, and a roundtable discussion about personal family roots and related migration narratives among participating artists and writers and scholars, including Theaster Gates, Kiese Laymon, and Carrie Mae Weems.

 

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