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Omar Kholeif departs Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago

MCA’s former senior curator goes freelance, focusing on projects in Venice, Sharjah and Manchester

Omar Kholeif courtesy Sharjah Art Foundation

In a surprise move, the high-profile curator and writer Omar Kholeif has stepped down from his senior curatorial role at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago (MCA). Kholeif was the museum’s Manilow Senior Curator and Director of Global Initiatives.

He says: “I really want to focus on building the next steps of my career and that means I need to dedicate the next few months to some very important freelance projects including the Sharjah Biennial, Abu Dhabi Art, HOME/Manchester International Festival, and the V-A-C Pavilion at the 58th Venice Biennale [next year], along with a number of books that I have set out and been contracted to write.”

Kholeif’s exhibition at the three-part Sharjah Biennial due to launch next March, entitled Making New Time, will include examples of augmented and virtual reality. At last year’s Abu Dhabi Art fair, he organised a new section called Beyond Territory dedicated to solo presentations.

Kholeif, previously a curator at the Whitechapel Gallery in London, joined MCA Chicago in 2015 as senior curator, and last July was made leader of the museum’s Global Visions initiative. Last September, he told us: “I want this to be the most global contemporary art museum in North America.” The project aims to “embed within the DNA of the museum” a more international view of the art historical canon, Kholeif said, through exhibitions, acquisitions and cultural exchanges with artists from the Middle East, South Asia, Africa and Latin America.

The initiative led to the first US museum show of the Chicago-based, Iraqi-American artist Michael Rakowitz (Backstroke of the West) and the acquisition of an early work by the Syrian-German painter Marwan, Untitled (Das Knie) (1967). A museum spokeswoman says that the MCA is committed to the Global Visions initiatives and they will continue. Meanwhile, a major group show called Many Tongues: Art, Language and Revolution in the Middle East and South Asia, curated by Kholeif, is still due to open 2020, according to the MCA website.

Kholeif is the author and editor of more than 20 publications including Moving Image (MIT Press, 2015) and The Rumours of the World: Rethinking Trust in the Age of the Internet (Sternberg Press, 2015).