Molesworth's exhibits are distinguished by generosity, "intellectual girth," and accessibility, according to Grynsztejn. "There's always a clarity to the proposition that she's making, and it is always not the status quo, but yet not deliberately just in-your-face for the sake of that. She wants you to think about things differently."
"She is beloved across America by artists," says celebrated Los Angeles painter Lari Pittman, who sought Molesworth out to contribute to his 2011 monograph. "Most curators are not artist-identified or practice-identified, they're more ideologs that look at art and try to fit it into their program. And I don't think Helen at all approaches it that way. She looks at art and tries to develop a cohesive idea around it as opposed to trying to make the art fit into a pre-assigned idea. . . . She's interested in art and how it takes its place in life as opposed to how it takes its place in academia."
At the root of Molesworth's approach are feminism and queerness. She contributed essays on feminist painting to the catalogue of LA MoCA's landmark 2007 history of feminist art "WACK! Art and the Feminist Revolution" and on how feminism should influence curating to Modern Women, the Museum of Modern Art's 2010 book reexamining how feminism challenges the institution's own version of the history of Modernism.
"I'm always interested in a more complicated version of a story because I'm a feminist, and because easy stories are usually stories that support business as usual," Molesworth says. Her own queerness — both in sexual orientation as well as radical political point of view — enables her to "read the dominant against the grain, to be interested in the minor, to be suspicious of power for its own sake, definitely, to be interested in the slightly askew."
That said, she's a curator focused almost entirely on art happening inside the art industrial complex. The 1980s are when graffiti burst into international prominence, but "This Will Have Been" barely registers it. Her revisions of history can sometimes feel like the popular artists of one era swapped out for those popular among the cool kids now — for example, Anslem Kiefer, who remains one of the most well regarded 1980s art stars, is absent from "This Will Have Been," while artists like David Hammons and Louise Lawler, who've been respected for ages but whose renown in the museum world is of a more recent vintage, play starring roles.
Also, Molesworth has a core group of favorite artists that she sticks with. As she noted at a 2012 ICA talk, "I'm not known in the field for being the discoverer of new talent."
Recognition of Molesworth's own talent has been increasingly evident across the country, but Bostonians still seem to have a fuzzy idea of what the 46-year-old curator is about. Partly this is because many of her major projects happened elsewhere — the Tuymans show, for example, didn't come here. Partly this is because Molesworth became contemporary art curator at Harvard in 2007, just before its Fogg Art Museum was closed for renovation and expansion. So her Harvard shows offered small presentations by Moyra Davey, Paul Chan, William Pope.L, Félix González-Torres, and ACT-UP. At the ICA, last year's Catherine Opie show offered minor works by a major photographer; and this summer's Josiah McElheny survey was more a success of sensation (glittery chandeliers) than substance.