Cleveland (January 18, 2022)—The Cleveland Museum of Art announces Key Jo Lee’s promotion to associate curator of American art, effective July 1, 2022. Lee began her tenure at the Cleveland Museum of Art in 2017 as assistant director of Academic Affairs and in 2021 became director of Academic Affairs and associate curator of special projects. She specializes in American art and visual cultures, as well as photographic history and theory. Her research interests include 19th-century photography and portraiture, interdisciplinary art histories, new materialism and Black abstraction.
“It has been an honor and a joy to witness Key Jo’s evolution as a museum professional. Her insights are keen, her writing eloquent, and her ambitions admirable. She has already made a marvelous addition to our curatorial team, and I am delighted that she will be devoting herself wholly to curatorial work at the CMA. I very much look forward to her future exhibitions, her interpretive work in the galleries, and her acquisitions,” said Director William Griswold.
Lee said, “I look forward to conveying new narratives through the museum’s collection of American art, to continuing to work with colleagues across the museum and other communities, to reimagine how the CMA presents the works in its care and to acquiring objects that diversify the museum’s holdings in ways that will deepen and expand the collection.”
Lee’s first exhibition at the CMA, Currents & Constellations: Black Art in Focus, will open on February 20, 2022, in the Julia and Larry Pollock Focus Gallery. An accompanying publication, Perceptual Drift: Black Art and an Ethics of Looking, includes an introduction and essay by Lee as well as essays by scholars Christina Sharpe and Erica Moiah James, and poetry by Robin Coste Lewis, and will be distributed by Yale University Press in June 2022.
Lee brings to the position a decade of experience as a museum educator. For the CMA, she conceptualized and oversaw the museum’s innovative “Art & Insight” program that teaches medical professionals how to look closely at works of art to increase empathy. During her tenure at the CMA, the museum transitioned entirely to paid internships, thereby diversifying the pipeline for students interested in pursuing museum careers. She has also been active as an independent curator; in 2021, she co-curated the exhibition Somethin’ to Say with artist Felandus Thames at Galerie Myrtis in Baltimore, Maryland. The exhibition featured ten Southern Black artists and opened a conversation on the American South as a creative incubator.
Lee graduated summa cum laude with a B.A. in Art History from Douglass College at Rutgers University in 2009 and earned an M.A. in History of Art and African American Studies at Yale University in 2013. She is currently a PhD candidate in the same departments at Yale; her dissertation is entitled “Precarious Matter(s): Blackness, Nineteenth-Century Photography, and Contemporary Art.” Before her employment at the CMA, she was the Rose Herrick Jackson Curatorial Fellow in American Art at Yale University Art Gallery.
In fewer than five years in Cleveland, Lee has demonstrated a deep investment in the local arts community. She served on the board of Twelve Literary Arts from 2018 to 2020 and is currently Board Vice President of SPACES, an international contemporary arts venue in Cleveland.
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