Yesomi Umolu, exhibitions curator at Logan Center, named artistic director of next Chicago Architecture Biennial

Yesomi Umolu
Yesomi Umolu has been named the artistic director of the 2019 Chicago Architecture Biennial.
Photo by
Jean Lachat
University Communications

Yesomi Umolu, exhibitions curator at the Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts at the University of Chicago, will serve as the artistic director of the Chicago Architecture Biennial 2019 edition, the Biennial and Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced on March 6.

With a background in architectural design and curatorial studies, Umolu focuses her work on global contemporary art and spatial practices. Her recent projects—including the exhibitions Kapwani Kiwanga: The sum and its parts, The Land Grant: Forest Law, and The Museum of Non Participation: The New Deal—have explored the politics of the built environment. A Chicago-based curator and writer, Umolu is a visiting lecturer, critic and speaker at a number of international universities and institutions.

“I am honored to be invited to serve as artistic director of the 2019 Chicago Architecture Biennial,” said Umolu. “Having my roots in the field of architecture, spatial questions have always been an important consideration of my work with contemporary artists, architects and urbanists from across the world. I am excited to embark on the journey of engaging the city of Chicago and it publics, as well as visitors to Chicago from across the country and around the world, in these conversations.”

Jack Guthman, chairman of the Biennial, said Umolu’s “broad curatorial experience makes her ideally suited to build upon the critical acclaim accorded to our 2015 and 2017 Biennials by our dual constituencies—the architecture profession worldwide, as well as Chicagoans and visitors to our city.”

In the coming months, Umolu will formalize and convene an international curatorial team of creative practitioners with strong knowledge of visual arts, architecture and design practices globally. The members of the curatorial team will be announced this spring. Umolu’s vision for the next Chicago Architecture Biennial features the exploration of emerging practices and global locations that are developing new approaches to architecture, urbanism and spatial practice. Through this process, she will use the Biennial as a forum to explore creative responses to shifting spatial conditions at local, regional and international levels.

“Yesomi is a visionary curator with strong roots in Chicago, and she will work tirelessly to cultivate an incredible cultural, educational and economic event for the city,” said Emanuel. “With Yesomi at the helm, the third Chicago Architecture Biennial is sure to secure its reputation as the most innovative architectural, art and design showcase of its kind.”

“We are delighted by Yesomi Umolu’s appointment as the next artistic director of the Chicago Architecture Biennial. The appointment further testifies to the curatorial imagination and dexterity she has demonstrated so well at the Logan Center for the Arts,” said Daniel Diermeier, provost of the University of Chicago. “By consistently showcasing the best in architectural innovation—in a city renowned for its architectural achievements—the Biennial advances the conversation about the potential impact of design. That conversation is playing an increasing role at the University of Chicago, and it is vital, of course, to the future of Chicago’s South Side, as to cities around the world.”

Umolu was selected by a committee comprised of Chicago Architecture Biennial board members, as well as past artistic directors, who considered candidates from around the world and from a variety of disciplines. Sharon Johnston and Mark Lee, 2017 Chicago Architecture Biennial artistic directors, said: “Umolu’s curatorial practice, which boldly, yet elegantly, traverses the fields of art and architecture, makes her uniquely situated for success in this role. The Biennial is a complex and multifaceted platform for exploring both the history and present-day challenges in the field, and we eagerly await the outcomes of Umolu’s curatorial inquiry and exploration.”

Now in its third edition, the Biennial will return Sept. 19, 2019 and run through Jan. 5, 2020.

Following a successful partnership in 2017, the opening of the 2019 edition will align with EXPO CHICAGO, the International Exposition of Contemporary and Modern Art, and the main site of the Biennial will once again be the Chicago Cultural Center.

—Adapted from a Chicago Architecture Biennial news release.