Walker Art Center will welcome a new leader on Jan. 6 — the dead of winter.
“I figure from there the only way is up?” said Henriette Huldisch.
Huldisch was hired last week as chief curator, a post that has been vacant for nearly three years. Essentially, she will serve as right-hand woman to the Walker’s new executive director, Mary Ceruti.
In an interview Monday, Ceruti said she is beginning to assemble a “team of people who want to think about how art matters to audiences and communities.” She described Huldisch — her first major hire — as thoughtful and clearheaded.
“She is confident and direct, but she is kind of quiet as a person — she speaks with a lot of knowledge and clarity without any arrogance at all.”
Born in Hamburg, Germany, Huldisch is the curator and director of exhibitions at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s List Visual Arts Center, where she’s worked since 2014 after stints in New York City, Germany and Britain.
She launched her career at New York’s Whitney Museum as an assistant curator from 2001 to 2008. She has worked on shows as international in scale as the 2008 Whitney Biennial, which she co-curated, and as indie as Ocularis, an artist-run film screening that began on a rooftop in Brooklyn and soon became known around the art community.
We caught up with Huldisch (whose first name is pronounced “Henrietta”) by phone at her office in Cambridge, Mass. This interview has been lightly edited for clarity and concision.
Q: What was your first exposure to the Walker? Do you remember a specific program that impressed you?
A: I started my career in New York in the early 2000s, and of course I knew of the Walker. I looked to the Walker as one of these very important institutions when I was a young curator.
I think I first visited in 2006, right after the new building opened, to see the Cameron Jamie show, which was great. But I remember being really blown away by the installation of the permanent collection — and particularly, if I remember this correctly, a really focused presentation of Sherrie Levine.
Q: The Walker has effectively been without a chief curator for several years. What did Mary Ceruti tell you she wanted from the job?
A: I think she is looking for a real partner, someone to formulate a holistic vision for the institution, to really think about what it means to be a multidisciplinary space like this, at this time. How we have to approach a collection right now, and how we approach exhibitions that are both smart and engaging for a wide variety of audiences.
I have known Mary as director at Sculpture Center, and I have always admired her absolutely great leadership in making that relatively small institution a consistent voice in New York and pioneering new artists. I was just really excited to work with her.
Q: As director of curatorial affairs, you’ll oversee not just visual arts but the performing arts and moving image departments as well as education and public programs — all this at an institution that’s considerably bigger than the one you help run now. How has your experience prepared you for this challenge?
A: It is definitely a bigger institution, but I started in a much bigger institution [the Whitney] than I’m at now. These other forms — film, video and performance — have been part of my background.
Q: Before you worked at the Whitney, you earned a master’s in film studies from New York University. How does film inform your vision as a curator?
A: Over the years I have been thinking about the overlaps between the cinematic avant-garde, and film and video, the moving image as it is produced in the visual arts — how they live together and how they don’t, and how they can be presented successfully.
I actually started at the Whitney in what was once the film and video portfolio — we were really serving both the avant-garde film world as well as the art world. I really enjoyed having one foot in both worlds and facilitating a certain amount of crossover, which I continued in Berlin [at the Hamburger Bahnhof museum], where I oversaw the time-based media collection and the media archive, and when I was curator-at-large for a multidisciplinary space in Manchester, England, called Cornerhouse.
I feel very strongly about the cinema space and the stage too, and I am excited to be joining an institution that has these great spaces for all of the forms.
Q: You also hold a master’s degree from Berlin’s Humboldt University.
A: The German degree is a combined undergrad and master’s degree. If you want to be precise, it is a master’s in American studies, cultural studies and philosophy. I did a lot of philosophical aesthetics and art history, basically under the cultural-studies heading.
Q: Who are some of your favorite artists?
A: That is such a difficult thing. It’s a little bit like asking, “What is your favorite song?” Among the people I have worked with, I would say someone like Harun Farocki — who is also a filmmaker. Looking back a bit more historically, I am a big fan of [conceptual artist] Hannah Darbovan, who is from my hometown, which is not the reason. I would probably have to name Agnes Martin, thinking about some of the better-known ones. There are so many.
Q: You co-curated the 2008 Whitney Biennial. Does Minneapolis have the potential to stage an ambitious international group exhibition or art fair?
A: An important international group exhibition, certainly. I don’t know the Minneapolis art scene well enough to make an informed judgment about an art fair or a biennial; I would have to reserve that until I am there and know the community better. But the Walker has been doing groundbreaking international group exhibitions, so yes.
Q: What impression do you have of the Twin Cities?
A: I have been there several times, virtually every time because of the Walker. I haven’t been there in the winter, but I think it has a very nice and livable feeling. A little bit like maybe the Pacific Northwest meets the Midwest or something like that.
Q: Where do you plan to live? Do you have family or a partner moving with you?
A: I have a son and a husband, and we don’t really know where we are going to live yet. That is going to be the objective of the next few weeks and months, just to get a better sense of the city. A few neighborhoods have been recommended to us. No pets are moving, but in Minneapolis there are probably pets in our future. My son is 12, so sort of between young and not so young anymore.