Updated 12:26pm with Kholeif’s statement.
Omar Kholeif, Manilow Senior Curator and Director of Global Initiatives at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, has departed from the museum as of June 4. An automatic email reply from Kholeif’s address states that “Omar Kholeif is no longer with the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago.” The same reply refers all communications to Michael Darling, the James W. Alsdorf Chief Curator at the MCA.
Reached by email for comment, Kholeif wrote: “On June 4th, I stepped down from my position as Manilow Senior Curator and Director of Global Initiatives at the MCA Chicago. I am looking forward to the next steps in my career, and to the wonderful possibilities that lie ahead. I am also excited to get a moment (in the interim) to spend some more time on my freelance projects including the Sharjah Biennial, Abu Dhabi Art, HOME/Manchester International Festival, and the V-A-C Pavilion at the 58th Venice Biennale, along with a number of books that I have set out to write. I am incredibly proud of the work that I have achieved at the MCA, and I will continue to follow this incredible institution, which continues to move from strength to strength!”
Kholeif departs after just under three years at the MCA, having curated exhibitions including solo shows of Paul Heyer, Basim Magdy, Michael Rakowitz, and most recently, Otobong Nkanga. His first major exhibition, “I Was Raised On the Internet,” opens later this month, and he has at least four exhibitions slated through 2020, including a retrospective of new media artist Sophia Al-Maria and an exhibition surveying the artistic links between the Middle East and South Asia from the mid-century to the present.
Kholeif was recently named “Director of Global Initiatives” in addition to his curatorial post, a role that included major fundraising and partnerships with international organizations, including the United Arab Emirates-based Barjeel Art Foundation and the Shulamit Nazarian Foundation. The latter organization recently announced a $100,000 artist-prize in partnership with the MCA. The inaugural Dunya Contemporary Art Prize was awarded to the Qatari-American artist Sophia Al-Maria, who will produce a new commission for the MCA’s forthcoming exhibition of her work.
Kholeif came to the MCA from London’s Whitechapel Gallery to take on the role of Manilow Senior Curator. Kholeif was a novel choice for the MCA, which had tended toward hiring Europeans in that role, and his tenure at the MCA was marked by an expansion of the museum’s global perspectives, particularly with artists from the Middle East. Recent museum acquisitions demonstrate Kholeif’s influence on the institution. In 2017 alone, the MCA acquired artworks by Sophia Al-Maria, Basim Magdy, Lawrence Abu Hamdan, Jumana Manna, Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian, Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige, and Marwan, all artists with ties to the Middle East.
Kholeif also serves on the board at Iceberg Projects, a Rogers Park exhibition space run by Dr. Daniel Berger, where he co-curated the 2016 exhibition “Broken Flag.”
Newcity has reached out to the MCA for comment and will update this article.
Elliot J. Reichert is a Chicago-based curator, critic, and editor. He is a currently Curator of Contemporary Art at the Eskenazi Museum of Art, Indiana Unversity, and Hatch Projects Curatorial Resident at the Chicago Artist Coalition. Formerly, he was Art Editor of Newcity and Assistant Curator at the Block Museum of Art, Northwestern University. His writing has been published in The Brooklyn Rail, the Journal of Visual Culture, and Newcity.