It is safe to say that Allison Glenn was made for Houston. The noted curator and writer was recently appointed as the Senior Curator and Director of Public Art at the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston (CAMH).
From her undergraduate thesis on Third Ward's Project Row Houses to her time as a curatorial associate for Prospect NOLA in New Orleans, Glenn’s exciting new role is a culmination of over a decade in the field.
The native Detroiter has dedicated her career to supporting contemporary artists. Her scholarly interests sit at the intersection of visual and urban studies, making her a key stakeholder in discussions around public art. She has lived in several U.S cities, including Chicago where she spent nine years studying and working at various art institutions.
In April 2021, Glenn’s groundbreaking exhibition, Promise, Witness, Remembrance opened at the Speed Museum of Art in Louisville, Kentucky and quickly became her most acclaimed project to date. Glenn considers herself a student of Houston’s art world pioneers, including Franklin Sirmans and legendary curator Valerie Cassel Oliver—who held CAMH’s Senior Curator position for 17 years. After working a stone’s throw from Texas at the Crystal Bridges Museum of Art in Bentonville, Arkansas for three years, she has returned to the Gulf Coast with plans to ignite conversations around Texas’s complex history and its geographic proximity to the Caribbean.
“What better place to have a conversation about multiplicity than Houston,'' she tells Houstonia. “It’s one of the most diverse cities in the world. I’m really interested in working with artists who are invested in conversations around place, space and time. I know these ideas will find a great home here in Houston.”
Below, Glenn discusses plans for CAMH, her curatorial journey and her budding love for Houston.
Houstonia: Valerie Cassel Oliver’s exhibition, The Dirty South: Contemporary Art, Material Culture, and the Sonic Impulse, is opening at CAMH later this year. Can you talk about how you’re approaching the show’s homecoming?
Glenn: What you’ll see in The Dirty South at CAMH is a different kind of curatorial methodology than you may have seen prior. For the past three weeks, I’ve been working closely with our Assistant Curator Patricia Restrepo to think about how to speak to that homecoming. It’s been wonderful because we’ve had the opportunity to work collaboratively with our education and public programs departments, which is something we’ll do as we move toward the future. Working more regularly in a collaborative manner is one of the exciting shifts I’m going to bring in my leadership role.
What does it mean for you to concentrate your curatorial practice outside of art centers like New York and Los Angeles?
Working primarily in the middle of the country is connected to this larger act of “decentering” that is intrinsic to my practice. There’s this understanding in North America that, geographically speaking, the center is the periphery and the periphery is the center. I’m really interested in the idea that there are multiple centers. I remain committed to thinking about a multiplicity of topographies and geographies, not privileging one site or another. I’m interested in places that come together harmoniously.
Your most recent project, Promise, Witness, Remembrance, has garnered lots of attention for its focus on Breonna Taylor and your care-filled approach to honoring her life and legacy. Can you discuss what you think the lasting impact of this project has been on your vision?
I think that the show has positively impacted how opportunities for sharing, growing and collaborating can be created. For me, the most important thing is that the exhibition resonated with Tamika Palmer, Breonna Taylor’s mother. It was important that she felt she had a voice and that the work was responsive to her thoughts. To be able to share space was really something I wanted to do and it felt successful. It opened up a whole world of possibilities for a different curatorial methodology, one that recognizes everyone who made the exhibition possible but also gives them space.
You’ve been living in Houston for a month. Can you leave us with a few of your favorite spots so far?
The Houston Sauce Pit and Mo Better Brews, for sure. I’ve already gotten a vinyl record from Flash Gordon Parks. I have to mention Exchange to Change, a Black-owned thrift store in Third Ward. I’ve walked the entire Menil campus and stopped by Project Row Houses to pick up their catalog, which I highly recommend. My list grows each and every day.