Valerie Cassel Oliver has served as the Sydney and Frances Lewis Family Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts since 2017. Her 2018 debut exhibition at the museum was the fifty-year survey of work by Howardena Pindell. The traveling exhibition, Howardena Pindell: What Remains to be Seen, was co-organized with Naomi Beckwith and named one of the most influential of the decade. Cassel Oliver subsequently organized Cosmologies from the Tree of Life, an exhibition featuring over thirty newly acquired works from the Souls Grown Deep Foundation. Most recently, she curated the critically acclaimed exhibition The Dirty South: Contemporary Art, Material Culture, and the Sonic Impulse. The sweeping survey was honored as one of the best exhibitions of 2021 and is currently traveling to venues across the U.S. through January 2023.
Prior to the VMFA, Cassel Oliver served as the Senior Curator at the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston (CAMH) from 2000 to 2017, where she organized numerous exhibitions including the acclaimed Double Consciousness: Black Conceptual Art Since 1970 (2005), Cinema Remixed & Reloaded: Black Women Artists and the Moving Image Since 1970 with Dr. Andrea Barnwell Brownlee (2009), and Radical Presence: Black Performance in Contemporary Art (2012). She has also mounted significant survey exhibitions for Benjamin Patterson, Donald Moffett, Trenton Doyle Hancock, Jennie C. Jones, Angel Otero, and Annabeth Rosen.
Cassel Oliver was the director of the Visiting Artist Program at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (1995–2000) and a program specialist at the National Endowment for the Arts (1988–1995). In 2000, she was appointed one of six curators to organize the Biennial for the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York.
Cassel Oliver is the recipient of a Getty Curatorial Research Fellowship (2007), a fellowship from the Center of Curatorial Leadership (2009), the High Museum of Art’s David C. Driskell Award (2011), the Arthur and Carol Kaufman Goldberg Foundation-to-Life Fellowship at Hunter College (2016), the James A. Porter Book Award from Howard University (2018), and the Detroit Institute of Art’s Alain Locke International Art Award (2022). From 2016 to 2017, she was a Senior Fellow in Curatorial Studies at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and, in spring 2020, she served with Hamza Walker as a Fellow for Viewpoints at the University of Texas at Austin.
Cassel Oliver holds an Executive MBA from Columbia University, New York; an M.A. in art history from Howard University in Washington, D.C., and a B.S. in communications from the University of Texas at Austin.