BAMPFA Appoints Elaine Yau as Associate Curator and Academic Liaison

Photo: Kelly Sullivan Photography

BAMPFA is pleased to announce the appointment of Dr. Elaine Yau as the museum’s Associate Curator and Academic Liaison. Yau recently transitioned into this position following her three-year tenure as an associate curator at BAMPFA, focusing on the museum’s African American quilt collection.

In her new position, Yau will work closely with the rest of BAMPFA’s curatorial team to activate the museum’s art collection, which encompasses 25,000 works of art primarily of the 20th and 21st centuries. In addition to supporting the exhibition, conservation, and research of this celebrated collection, Yau’s new role will focus on making BAMPFA’s resources more accessible to the UC Berkeley community, deepening the museum’s longstanding relationship to the university.

“Before joining BAMPFA, I was a teacher and student. Engaging with artworks firsthand was always a crucial part of learning how to write and think about the creative process. It’s an honor to have the opportunity to facilitate more of these encounters with the rest of campus,” said Yau. “I’m also excited to think alongside UC Berkeley’s incredible faculty about how the collection can be brought into broader critical conversations in line with their research. The collaborative potential is something I’m eager to explore.”

As an academic liaison to faculty members and other campus partners at UC Berkeley, Yau will build meaningful curricular connections across BAMPFA’s collections, exhibitions, and programs, including through the museum’s four Study Centers: the Film Library and Study Center, the Florence Helzel Works on Paper Study Center, the James Cahill Asian Art Study Center, and the Steven Leiber Conceptual Art Study Center. In addition to her educational role, Yau will serve as a key member of BAMPFA’s art curatorial team, working with museum staff as well as UC Berkeley faculty to organize exhibitions that enrich the campus curriculum while also engaging the general public.

Yau’s role as an associate curator will also enable her to continue her ongoing work on the African American Quilt Collection at BAMPFA, a historic collection of nearly three thousand quilts that the museum received as a bequest in 2018. Though it is believed to be the largest collection of its kind, the African American Quilt Collection had never been formally catalogued prior to its arrival at BAMPFA. During her tenure as a BAMPFA curatorial fellow (2018-2020), Yau—who holds a PhD in History of Art from UC Berkeley and specializes in folk art in the US—has overseen the first comprehensive research process to illuminate these vital holdings, as well as an ambitious conservation initiative to ensure that they remain accessible to future generations. In 2020, she co-curated with BAMPFA Director Emeritus Lawrence Rinder an acclaimed retrospective of the artist Rosie Lee Tompkins that was drawn from this collection, and she is currently organizing a major multi-artist survey, also drawn from this bequest, titled Rooted West: Twentieth Century African American Quilts in California, which will open at BAMPFA in Spring 2025.