Curator Sean Anderson leaves the MoMA to lead Cornell’s BArch program

Off to Ithaca

Curator Sean Anderson leaves the MoMA to lead Cornell’s BArch program

Sean Anderson (Chloe Burton Photography/Chloe Burton)

This week, Cornell University’s College of Architecture, Art, and Planning (AAP) announced that curator, educator, and designer Sean Anderson will be joining its faculty as an associate professor and director of the school’s Bachelor of Architecture (BArch) program. Anderson will be leaving his post as an associate curator in the Department of Architecture and Design at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) to pursue the new position at AAP, where he has previously organized the Acts of Repair symposium and held visiting faculty positions.

After receiving professional degrees in architecture from Cornell and Princeton, Anderson pursued doctoral studies in African art history at the University of California Los Angeles. A fellow of the American Academy in Rome, he spent more than 25 years practicing and teaching architecture in South Asia, as well as in Australia, Italy, Morocco, Afghanistan, and the United Arab Emirates. 

In his role at MoMA, Anderson led a number of major curatorial projects, including the exhibitions Insecurities: Tracing Displacement and Shelter (2016), Thinking Machines: Art and Design in the Computer Age, 1959-1989 (2017), and Reconstructions: Architecture and Blackness in America (2021), which he co-curated with scholar and Columbia University professor Mabel O. Wilson. The last show was an iteration of the museum’s contemporary architecture exhibition series and the first-ever MoMA show to center the work of African-American and African diaspora designers and architects.

textile installation at a museum
Installation view of Reconstructions: Architecture and Blackness in America at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, February 27, 2021 – May 31, 2021. (© 2021 The Museum of Modern Art/Photo by Robert Gerhardt)

Anderson’s imprint extends into the museum’s vast permanent collection as well, most notably through the accession of works by designers from underrepresented backgrounds and geographies. Since late 2015, these have included photographs from the Color(ed) Theory series by Chicago-based artist Amanda Williams, drawings and models by Indian-born architects Raj Rewal and Anupama Kundoo, Refugee Flag by Refugee Nation and Yara Said, and a tapestry by Manuel Herz Architects and the National Union of Sahrawi Women. For the opening of the Diller Scofidio + Renfro-designed MoMA expansion in October 2019, Anderson also curated the Building Citizens collection gallery (on view until 2022), which explored “architecture’s capacity to give shape to the social, political, and cultural dimensions of…the worlds they inhabit” and included seminal works by Rael San Fratello, James Wines, and the 2021 Pritzker Prize winners Lacaton & Vassal.

In addition to his work curating exhibits and collection galleries in the MoMA’s Midtown campus, Anderson contributed to the growth and development of the Asia study group within MoMA’s Contemporary and Modern Art Perspectives (C-MAP) program. He applied his experience as a researcher and educator to two highly popular Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) through the museum: What is Contemporary Art? and Reimagining Blackness and Architecture.

Photo of a canopy over the MoMA PS1 courtyard
Jenny Sabin’s Lumen installed over the MoMA PS1 courtyard in 2017, when Sean Anderson oversaw the Young Architects Program. (Pablo Enriquez)

One of Anderson’s most significant contributions to the museum and the contemporary architecture world at large came through his coordination of the last four iterations of the Young Architects Program (YAP) at MoMA PS1 in Queens. The program featured exhibitions of finalist proposals and large-scale experimental installations by Pedro & Juana, Dream the Combine, Jenny Sabin Studio, and Escobedo Solíz Studio. Anderson helped secure budget increases for participating architects and streamlined the relationship between YAP and PS1 during his tenure, though the museum placed the program on an ongoing hiatus in late 2019.

As he makes the transition to his new role in Ithaca, Anderson will continue a variety of curatorial projects focused on modern architecture in transnational contexts, including as a co-curator for MoMA’s 2022 show Modern Architecture in South Asia: The Project of Decolonization, 1947-1985. At Cornell, he will help shape foundational curricula for undergraduate students in an intensive professional degree program. Caroline O’Donnell, chair of the school’s architecture department, highlighted the pursuit of “more just and equitable approaches to design” as a primary reason for Anderson’s timely hire: “His expertise in areas of South Asia and Africa, combined with his commitment to actionable possibilities for a spatial approach to reparations and restorative justice, will add valuable perspectives to urgent global issues.”