From Ph.D. Student to Smithsonian Curator

June 19, 2018

Saisha Grayson (Ph.D. '18) is the new curator of time-based media at the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Saisha-Grayson_Cayla-Ann-Photography outside

Since March, Saisha Grayson (Ph.D. ’18, Art History) has divided her time between New York and Washington, D.C. Two months before receiving her degree, she started her new role as curator of time-based media at the Smithsonian American Art Museum — news that was reported by The Guardian and ARTnews, among other publications.
“In addition to feeling elated by the incredible opportunity to steward this important collection at such a prestigious institution, I’m also so gratified to know that the extraordinary effort of pursuing and completing the Ph.D. has been worth it,” Grayson says. “I’m sure this level of scholarly commitment was a huge part of getting my job, as the Smithsonian American Art Museum has high standards for the research and historical frameworks that underpin their exhibitions, publications, and programs.”
Grayson’s curatorial work focuses on the intersection of contemporary art, feminism, and intermedia practices. Before joining the Smithsonian, she worked for close to five years as an assistant curator at the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art at the Brooklyn Museum.
She sees time-based media — which includes film, video, audio, and digital works that unfold over time — as a key space within contemporary art. “We’re in a moment when everyone is, in their own way, expressing themselves through time-based media,” Grayson says. “There is an international language of media production and sharing, and this gives us an opportunity to really connect with audiences where they are.”
Grayson studied filmmaking as an undergraduate and earned a film studies certificate as part of her Ph.D. program. She became interested in contemporary art because “it helps us have conversations about the world we live in and how we see ourselves,” she says, adding, “My primary interest is artists. In terms of curatorial practice, I want to follow and support artists as they work in whatever media makes sense for the project at hand. Luckily, many of the artists I’m most interested in work with time-based media as an essential part of their tool kit.”
One of the first projects she is working to get off the ground at the Smithsonian is “A/V Club @ SAAM,” starting with an evening of programming responding to the museum’s upcoming “Trevor Paglen: Sites Unseen” exhibition. “Paglen’s photography highlights the infrastructural realities of government surveillance, so I’ll showcase artists responding in personal, idiosyncratic ways to living under surveillance conditions,” Grayson says. “I’m hoping to do these evenings a few times a year, exploring timely or exhibition-related topics, and creating a platform for artists working in performance, sound, and digital or interactive media to connect with our audiences. I want people to think of the museum as a place buzzing with energy and insights into issues they care about.”