Art: Meet the Walker's new director

  • Article by: MARY ABBE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 14, 2007 - 9:29 AM

Olga Viso muses about her new job in Minneapolis and her need to "keep warm and be fashionable, too."

This is an extended interview with Olga Viso from the print version of the Star Tribune.

Olga Viso, 41, was named director of Walker Art Center last week, concluding a six-month international search to replace Kathy Halbreich, who is leaving Nov. 1. Director of the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden since 2005, Viso (pronounced VEE-zo) has been at the Washington, D.C., institution for 12 years, working her way up through the curatorial ranks. She begins work at the Walker in January. She talked by telephone Wednesday about her career and her vision for the Walker:

Q How did the Walker job come about?

A I was contacted by a Walker adviser, and several trustees approached me because I've had an ongoing relationship with the Walker as a sister institution to the Hirshhorn. I was delighted because I admire the Walker so much; it's one of the great contemporary institutions in the country and the world.

Q What are some of the similarities and differences between the Hirshhorn and the Walker?

A The Hirshhorn's mandate is global art, just as it is at the Walker. And both collections were inspired by a benefactor whose collection became the core of the institution but then evolved over time. The Hirshhorn, like the Walker, has great strength in individual artists. That's something very close to my heart, because it underscores that institutional commitment to artists.

The Hirshhorn's collection goes back further in time than the Walker's, but where the Walker really stands out is that, in addition to individual artists, it has focused on art-historical movements like Fluxus and Arte Povera that fell outside the art historical canon but have proved to be incredibly timely and prescient. That vision is very exceptional.

The Walker also has a multidisciplinary focus, with incredible film, performing-arts and media programs that make it uniquely suited to take the pulse of the moment. Few other museums have those elements. Contemporary artists are working across media and disciplines, and the Walker really reflects that with authority. I would like to encourage and foster that even more.

At the Hirshhorn, for example, we're organizing a retrospective of Guillermo Kuitca, an Argentine painter who started as a theatrical stage designer and has done incredible sets for Wagner operas. We're trying to partner with the Kennedy Center to do a performance or something.

Q What Hirshhorn programs might you transplant to the Walker?

A We have a series called "Ways of Seeing" in which we invite artists to install a 10,000-square-foot space in our galleries with any aspect of our collection that interests them. It's incredibly inspirational to see young artists take sometimes obscure or historical work and give it a fresh take. What inspires artists is often not obvious. We've found that putting forth the voices of artists does open doors for people. It demystifies art and provides a compelling point of entry, makes art more approachable.

Q How do you envision the sculpture garden extension that is to be built on the site of the original Guthrie Theater?

A I have no specific plans yet, but it is an incredible opportunity to complete the site and integrate the sculpture garden and the building more fully. That's something I've struggled with at the Hirshhorn, too, because its sculpture garden sits across a street and gets more visitors than the museum. At the Walker, there's a tremendous opportunity to invite artists to think about how to open up the Walker into the garden.

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