Arts & Culture

UK alum Aaron Levi Garvey named chief curator at Andy Warhol Museum

Aaron Garvey. Photo by Abby Warhola.

LEXINGTON, Ky. (Aug. 22, 2023) — University of Kentucky Department of Arts Administration alumnus Aaron Levi Garvey has been named the chief curator at the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The born New Yorker has created an expansive career for himself after completing his master's degree in arts administration and museum studies here at UK. He specializes in modern and contemporary art which has led him to curate exhibits and lecture at universities across the country. His most notable exhibits include “We Are What You Eat” at the United Nations Headquarters in New York City, “Ephemera Obscura” at the Contemporary Art Center of New Orleans, and “Ark of Life/Ark of Bones.” at the Jule Collins Smith Museum of Fine Art at Auburn University.  

Garvey’s mission as a contemporary curator and historian is to create exhibits that focus on supporting underrepresented artists as part of marginalized communities to engage the public that art is something accessible to everyone, regardless of sex, gender, race or sexuality. Garvey’s engagement toward persons of color, LGBTQIA+, and women artists made him a great candidate for chief curator at the Andy Warhol Museum, a museum focused on the legacy of the infamous contemporary artist and fostering the legacy of emerging artists within the same community in which Warhol challenged contemporary art conventions. 

UK College of Fine Arts had the opportunity to talk to Garvey about his recent position at the Andy Warhol Museum and what it means to be a successful curator. 

UK Fine Arts: Why do you believe that Andy Warhol is the most influential contemporary artist of the 20th century?  

Garvey: Warhol’s forecasting of trends, full immersion into the moment, constant curiosity and always working with what was current, new or experimental, really broadened the landscape for artists to further experiment in their own studio practices. Warhol touched on so many themes, styles and processes of working, and continues to morph through media and technology. His work and experimentations are what I consider to be the precursors to — GIF, meme and AI culture. This might sound a little crazy, but I have this exhibition idea that would parallel and tie in Benjamin Franklin and Andy Warhol through the lens of printmaking as the predicate to modern computer design and computer-aided art as a whole. 

UK Fine Arts: What drove you to choose the University of Kentucky’s master's program in arts administration/museum management? 

Garvey: UK seemed like a great fit for my interests and life balance. UK was always one of those schools that was top of mind for several reasons and often swirled around my life spheres, whether through friends, colleagues, etc. I, of course, can’t leave out that I have been a huge UK basketball fan pretty much forever!  

UK Fine Arts: I read in an article that you focus your curation toward emerging and diverse artists. Do you feel you have created a “bedrock foundation” for emerging and diverse artists through your exhibits? How so? 

Garvey: I wouldn’t say that I have fully created a bedrock, as I am constantly working to build and refine structures to do so. The goal is to implement collaborations and support mechanisms for artists and communities which will grow into firm foundations. 

UK Fine Arts: What was the most impactful exhibit that you have curated? 

Garvey: I’m not sure that I can answer this, that is like choosing a favorite child, or favorite parent. They have all been impactful in different ways for me personally, and impactful to the public in vastly different ways too.  

UK Fine Arts: What has been the most defining moment in your career? 

Garvey: I’m not sure that there is a singular defining moment, but I think that it all stems from spending my life going to museums and being interested in art, history, object history, stewardship, creating access, mentorship and finding comfort within museums and cultural institutions. All of those combined continue to shape and contribute to how I approach my career.  

UK Fine Arts: What is the best advice you would give to a student that wants to start a career in curation? 

Garvey: Stay curious; stay ambitious — late nights working, reading articles, going to performances and openings; strive for better; work with integrity, honesty and passion; foster and maintain relationships; be open to adapting to your surroundings; visit as many museums, cultural institutions and nonprofit organizations as possible; be willing to bring people along with you when you have a seat at the table or give up your seat for someone else; and spend time thinking ahead about how to create accessible longevity for intuitions. But most of all — do the work necessary to see measurable impact.  

As the state’s flagship, land-grant institution, the University of Kentucky exists to advance the Commonwealth. We do that by preparing the next generation of leaders — placing students at the heart of everything we do — and transforming the lives of Kentuckians through education, research and creative work, service and health care. We pride ourselves on being a catalyst for breakthroughs and a force for healing, a place where ingenuity unfolds. It's all made possible by our people — visionaries, disruptors and pioneers — who make up 200 academic programs, a $476.5 million research and development enterprise and a world-class medical center, all on one campus.   

In 2022, UK was ranked by Forbes as one of the “Best Employers for New Grads” and named a “Diversity Champion” by INSIGHT into Diversity, a testament to our commitment to advance Kentucky and create a community of belonging for everyone. While our mission looks different in many ways than it did in 1865, the vision of service to our Commonwealth and the world remains the same. We are the University for Kentucky.