University News

University Museum of Contemporary Art Director Loretta Yarlow to Retire

After 18 years at the UMass art museum’s helm, Yarlow will step down June 30

Loretta Yarlow will leave her position as director of the University Museum of Contemporary Art at UMass Amherst June 30. Yarlow will have served 18 years as leader of the museum. The UMass Fine Arts Center will appoint an interim director and launch a search for Yarlow’s successor in the coming months.

Yarlow has overseen a period of exceptional growth and transformation in her time at UMCA. This includes the adoption in 2010 of the UMCA name by the institution previously known as the University Gallery, a reflection of its evolution under Yarlow’s leadership. The museum tripled its operating budget through Yarlow’s successful fundraising and donor cultivation.

Loretta Yarlow
Loretta Yarlow

Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy said Yarlow leaves an impressive legacy after nearly two decades as a leader in the region’s arts community. He said, “Under Loretta Yarlow’s direction, the museum has expanded in critical ways. Its collection has not only grown to include a number of well-known artists, but its reputation has followed suit. Loretta’s efforts to integrate the museum into the larger community has become a point of pride for the campus, as well as an important way to cultivate—and sustain—new relationships.”

Yarlow said, “I am pleased to have helped advance the museum’s commitment to excellence, to its welcoming and inclusive spirit, to its role as an indispensable cultural resource for a diverse and growing audience, and to a deep belief that art can transcend boundaries and help change the world for the better.”

Yarlow’s work has earned the museum various monetary awards in support of exhibition programming, including two grants from the National Endowment for the Arts; a grant from the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts; two grants from the Art Mentor Foundation Lucerne; two grants from the Jordan D. Schnitzer Family Foundation; grants from numerous foreign governments’ ministries of culture; grants from regional and local cultural councils; three awards from Women For UMass; and support from alumni to create the UMass Class of 1961 Artists Residency Program for the UMCA.

Yarlow curated many milestone exhibitions, including The Miraculous in the Everyday: Tom Friedman, Felix Gonzales-Torres, Gabriel Orozco (2005); Transition and Transformation: A. Balasubramanian and Ranjani Shettar (2006); Beat Streuli: Bruxelles Midi (2006), the first museum large-scale video installation in the region); Connecting the Dots ... The Warhol Legacy: Ellen Gallagher, Vik Muniz, Rob Pruitt (2009); Du Bois in Our Time (10 artists commissioned by Yarlow in 2013 to create new work: Radcliffe Bailey, Mary Evans, Brendan Fernandes LaToya Ruby Frazier, Julie Mehretu, Ann Messner, Jefferson Pinder, Tom Rollins & KOS, Mickalene Thomas, Carrie Mae Weems); 40 Years/40 Artists (2014); and most recently 60 Years of Collecting (2022-23). Among the many notable artists’ solo exhibitions organized by Yarlow are The Annunciation: Eija-Liisa Ahtila (2012); Kimsooja: Performance/Video (2011); Walid Raad: Postface (2014); Leonardo Drew: Cycles (2019); Roni Horn: Pi (2020); and Nicole Eisenman: Prince (2022).

In 2010 Yarlow created Museum Without Walls, a series of outdoor public art exhibitions, to connect the UMCA’s program to a wider audience through large, site-specific art projects in unique and unexpected ways. These included Just A Rumor: Anna Schuleit (2010); Moveable Feast (2010); Catherine d’Ignazio: The Border Crossed Us (2011); and XTCA: Cross Town Contemporary Art (2018).

Included among Yarlow’s achievements is the establishment of two significant endowments, made possible by the generosity of major donors who sought to augment UMCA’s programs under Yarlow’s guidance: the Eva Fierst Student Curatorial Exhibition Fund and the Lois B. Torf Collecting Fund.

Yarlow has overseen an ambitious art acquisitions program that added more than 800 works to the museum’s collection of modern and contemporary prints, drawings, and photographs. Contributors to the collection have included artists, private collectors, and foundations such as The Andy Warhol Foundation, the Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation, and the Alex Katz Foundation.

Yarlow created new partnerships and collaborations with faculty in the arts, humanities, and the sciences from across the UMass campus. Under her management, new courses were created and added to the curriculum, offering UMass students behind-the-scenes museum training, such as the Curatorial Fellowship Program (which Yarlow established in 2006) and Collecting 101 (established in 2021).

Deepening ties to the local art scene has been another one of Yarlow’s priorities. With the goal to showcase work by local artists, she inaugurated the exhibition series Dialogue with a Collection in 2006. And in 2017, she initiated a collaboration with the UMass/Five College Federal Credit Union to create UMCA satellite exhibition spaces at their Hadley and Campus Center branches.

Prior to coming to UMass Amherst, Yarlow served as curator at the ICA Boston; director/curator at York University Art Gallery, Toronto, Canada; commissioner/curator of the Canadian Pavilion, 47th Venice Biennale; and director of exhibitions at Pratt Institute, both Brooklyn and Manhattan campuses.