Courtney Willis Blair on Extending White Cube’s Legacy

The New York-based curator speaks about her visions for the gallery’s new presence in the US and how she will continue to build support networks in her new role

BY Marko Gluhaich AND Courtney Willis Blair in Interviews | 16 DEC 22

In April 2022, White Cube announced that it will be opening a gallery in New York’s Upper East Side in the fall of 2023. The British gallery – known for representing major artists, such as Tracey Emin and Damien Hirst – will be celebrating its 30th anniversary next year. In November 2022, Courtney Willis Blair was named senior director of the new space in New York, and will be overseeing strategy and programming. Frieze associate editor Marko Gluhaich spoke to Willis Blair about what her plans are for the gallery as it expands to the US.  

Marko Gluhaich Congratulations on being named senior director at White Cube’s upcoming New York space! What are you most looking forward to about bringing the gallery to the City? What are your goals for the space?

Courtney Willis Blair Thank you. This is an exciting time for White Cube. The gallery has long planned a major presence in New York, and I’m looking forward to being at the helm to produce ambitious, quality exhibitions while establishing our US strategy. We are working on several exciting projects. The goal is to expand on the distinct foundation the gallery has built internationally with outstanding and influential programming through different creative verticals.

MG In your previous role as partner and senior director at Mitchell-Innes & Nash, you established yourself by bringing on innovative artists like Jacolby Satterwhite and Gideon Appah. What have been the motivating drives behind your past curatorial decisions and how do you envision their application in your new role?

CWB I am always interested in artists that demand of their work a certain conceptual rigor, who are purposeful in their execution, and who have a singular point of view that they can stand behind. What makes an artistic practice arresting, relevant and indelible is something I’m continually questioning. This curiosity, alongside a deep trusting of my eye and my gut, is the framework I’ve applied and will apply in decision making.

Courtney Willis Blair, 2022. Courtesy: White Cube; photograph: Myesha Evon Gardner

MG What are your longstanding curatorial interests that you plan to continue exploring at White Cube?

CWB As 2023 marks White Cube’s 30th year, I’m thinking deeply around the origins of the gallery, the ongoing threads of the program and how this legacy interweaves with the breadth of my own curatorial interests around avant-garde performance movements, acute materiality, relationships between land and the body, folk architecture and literature, experimental music and poetics. I’m more interested in how an artist thinks through the execution of their medium conceptually rather than a sort of fanaticism towards any one discipline.

MG In 2016, you founded Entre Nous, an international organization of Black women who work in the art market. What has been the significance of the organization for you and the women involved, and how do you see it continuing as you transition into your new role?

CWB Entre Nous is necessary because it is as much about camaraderie as it is about information sharing. In many ways, the significance is not quantitative, but the group has grown in both size and influence since we began six years ago. There have been deals secured, job offers extended, critical introductions made, businesses started all in this time that have proved how essential this group is and continues to be as we advance in our professional careers.

MG You began working at galleries in 2011 alongside an arts journalism career. How have you seen the New York landscape change in the past decade – and what do you predict for its future?

CWB The New York landscape has changed significantly. The role of the institution and curator; young artists’ relationships with collectors and dealers; the cost of operating a business; and of course, the complexities that COVID-19 and other global and national crises have on a cosmopolitan city: these are all still in flux. There have been significant inroads in certain areas of the New York art world that are visible from the outset, but there will always be more to do. And while I don’t tend to make predictions, I do think, as we enter into a new year, that there are serious questions to consider around the economy and market, as well as what legacies we are striving towards as a major player in the industry.

Main Image: Courtney Willis Blair, 2022. Courtesy: White Cube; photograph: Myesha Evon Gardner

Marko Gluhaich is associate editor of frieze. He lives in New York, USA.

Courtney Willis Blair is US Senior Director of White Cube.