National Gallery of Art recruits the first woman and person of colour to serve as its chief curator

As the museum commits itself to diversity, E. Carmen Ramos, a curator of Latino art, will be “the principal architect of the visitor experience”

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E. Carmen Ramos, who has been appointed chief curatorial and conservation officer at the National Gallery of Art © 2021 Board of Trustees, National Gallery of Art, Washington

E. Carmen Ramos, who has been appointed chief curatorial and conservation officer at the National Gallery of Art © 2021 Board of Trustees, National Gallery of Art, Washington

The National Gallery of Art (NGA) says it has recruited the first woman and person of colour to serve as chief curatorial and conservation officer: E. Carmen Ramos, who has been the acting chief curator and curator of Latinx art at the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Ramos will assume the post in August.

The appointment comes as the museum is striving to acquire and exhibit works by more diverse artists and to hire more people of colour for leadership positions in an effort to better reflect American society. Last July, well after those initiatives began, the NGA was the target of a petition signed by dozens of people accusing the institution of harassment and calling for major changes to make it more diverse and equitable.

“E. Carmen Ramos brings two decades of experience as a museum curator and leader, a record of significant award-winning projects, and a deep commitment to scholarship," Kaywin Feldman, director of the NGA, says in a statement. “She is widely admired in the field as a visionary leader and as a scholar. We look forward to collaborating with Carmen at this exciting moment in the National Gallery's history—as we are launching a reimagined visual identity and brand that aims to reflect and reach our audiences with warmth, relevant exhibitions and engaging content.”

The museum, which reopened its doors today after a Covid-related closure of nearly six months, has adopted a new multicolour logo with an emphasis on the word “national”, unveiled the vision statement “Of the nation and for all the people” and outlined a strategic priority of reflecting the diversity of the nation and championing equity, access and inclusion. The images were crafted by the design firm Pentagram.

The new logo designed by Pentagram for the National Gallery of Art, which is seeking to send a more inclusive message Courtesy of the National Gallery of Art and Pentagram

“I am honoured to join the National Gallery at this transformative moment in our nation's history, when museums are recommitting themselves to deeper inclusive practices, collections and exhibition,’’ the NGA quotes Ramos as saying. “It is important that we continue to expand the boundaries of art history, making sure our scholarship reflects a fuller and more complex picture of our nation and world.”

At the Smithsonian American Art Museum, Ramos bolstered that institution’s holdings of Latino art with the goal of remedying its frequent exclusion from American art historical narratives. Among the shows she curated were ¡Printing the Revolution! The Rise and Impact of Chicano Graphics, 1965 to Now, currently on view at the museum; Tamayo: The New York Years (2017); Down These Mean Streets: Community and Place in Urban Photography (2017); and Our America: The Latino Presence in American Art (2013).

Before arriving in Washington, DC, Ramos was an assistant curator at the Newark Museum of Art in New Jersey. She earned her master’s degree and PhD in art history at the University of Chicago and her bachelor’s degree in art history and psychology from New York University.

As chief curatorial and conservation officer, Ramos will report to Feldman and serve as “principal architect of the visitor experience,” the NGA says. The appointment was first reported by The New York Times as part of a wide-ranging interview with Feldman.

As it reopened its West Building to the public today, the museum was requiring visitors to obtain free timed-entry passes. Also reopening to the public today in Washington, DC and requiring reserved free passes were the National Museum of African American History and Culture, the National Portrait Gallery and the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

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