Barbara London to Retire from MoMA after Four Decades


The Museum of Modern Art’s first full-scale exhibition of sound art will also be its curator’s swan song.

After 42 years at New York’s MoMA, Barbara London is retiring from her position of associate curator in the media and performance art department. Her final show, “Soundings: A Contemporary Score,” is on view through Nov. 3.

Founder of the museum’s video exhibition and collection programs, London has organized many exhibitions for MoMA over the years, including “Automatic Update” (2007), “River of Crime” (2006), ” Anime!!” (2005), “Music and Media” (2004) and “Video Spaces: Eight Installations” (1995). She also curated solo exhibitions of artists such as Nam June Paik, Shigeko Kubota, Peter Campus, Thierry Kuntzel, Steve McQueen and Song Dong.

Prior to “Soundings,” London had curated the series of exhibitions “Looking at Music 3.0” (2011), “Looking at Music: Side 2” (2010) and “Looking at Music” (2008), also at MoMA. She was responsible for the museum’s very first show to explore aural aesthetics, a modest 1979 exhibition titled “Sound Art” that featured only three works, which played in rotation.

In addition to her advocacy of sound art, London was also an early American proponent of contemporary Asian art. A three-week-long art-scouting trip to Japan taken by London in 1978 became the subject of Paris & Wizard, a musical by Japanese artist Ei Arakawa. It premiered at MoMA in February as part of the museum’s exhibition “Tokyo 1955-1970.” To fund her journey, London received a $5,000 grant from Panasonic, then known as Matsushita, and got help from Nam June Paik in setting up meetings. Renamed Paris in the play, London was portrayed by Marie Karlberg, a Swedish-born artist.

Among her other accomplishments, London orchestrated the premiere of the Quay Brothers’ play, Through the Weeping Glass, at the Mutter Museum, Philadelphia, in 2011. She has also worked on a series of web projects produced in China, Russia, and Japan, and has written and lectured widely.