William Olander received a PhD in art history in 1983 from the Institute of Fine Arts at New York University. In 1983 and 1984 he was Acting Director of the Allen Art Museum of Oberlin College, where he served as the Curator of Modern Art since 1979. He was appointed the Senior Curator at the New Museum of Contemporary Art in New York City in 1985. From his arrival at the New Museum, Olander had been very much involved with video and performance art, and with the language and theoretical issues of post-modernism.
Olanders 1986 exhibition, Homo Video: Where We Are Now included several videos responding to the AIDS crisis. In 1987, at his invitation, the group Act Up (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power) presented an installation in the museums window on Broadway near Prince Street juxtaposing information and statistics on AIDS with apparently indifferent, callous, or manipulative responses to AIDS from national figures. As a prolific curator, writer, and scholar until his death in 1989, Olander considered how the discourse of social culture is inextricably tied to artistic production.