The homecoming of Wexner Center's new senior curator

Peter Tonguette
Michael Goodson at the Wexner Center

In May, the Wexner Center will debut Gray Matters, the first exhibition curated by Michael Goodson. The show completes a circle of sorts for the museum's new, 48-year-old senior curator of exhibitions. Long before he chose what pieces to display at Columbus' top contemporary arts venue, Goodson was on the other side of the artistic equation—an aspiring sculptor and punk-rock kid from Dayton seeking inspiration from his visits to the Wex.

“When I was that rube in Dayton, Ohio—that punk-rock kid—I would come to Columbus and go to the Wexner Center and see things that made me smarter,” Goodson says. “I think the first show I ever saw here was this Gerhard Richter show [in 1998]. … It really changed the way I thought about art.”

The homecoming was long in the making. After studying art in Ohio and Michigan, Goodson moved to New York, where he worked as an artist before transitioning to behind-the-scenes positions at the David Zwirner Gallery and then the James Cohan Gallery. “I found pretty quickly that I had an acumen for thinking about how work is installed and what it means in that context,” Goodson says.

In 2011, after spending a year traveling the world installing sculptures with artist Roxy Paine, Goodson and his family decided it was time for a change. As it happened, the Columbus College of Art and Design was looking for a director to oversee its Beeler Gallery. “My wife was pregnant with our second child in New York and decided that she didn't want to have two kids in New York,” Goodson says. “We found this position through various friends at CCAD, and I decided that I could probably build something there.”

During his five years at CCAD, Goodson made his mark with several highly regarded shows featuring the likes of Charles Atlas and the late CCAD president Denny Griffith. “[Goodson] really improved the physical plant of the gallery. … Through various renovations, he's really made it into a premier contemporary art space,” says CCAD professor Tim Rietenbach. “He has consistently put really interesting exhibitions together.”

After a nationwide search, Goodson was chosen to lead the Wex's exhibitions program last July. “I had had a chance to watch the work that Michael had been doing at CCAD … and was very impressed with what he had accomplished there,” says Wexner Center director Sherri Geldin.

For his Wex debut, Goodson chose to work with a muted palette—literally. Gray Matters, on view through July 30, presents works created exclusively in black, white or gray by a roster of all-female artists. “Part of it was getting to know this building—basically, pacing the galleries neurotically,” Goodson says. “There's something about these galleries and the light in these galleries that made me think an achromatic show would sing in this space.”

In recent years, such local institutions as the Pizzuti Collection, the Columbus Museum of Art and—yes—the Beeler Gallery have stepped up their contemporary art game. But as Goodson sees it, the Wex's place remains constant.

“The Wexner Center, I think, is still a flagship in its mandate to focus solely on contemporary art and not through a specific collection and not mixed up with modernity and the history of art,” Goodson says. “Our mission is still to present contemporary art—period.”