The Walker Art Center’s chief curator, Darsie Alexander, has been named executive director of the Katonah Museum of Art in New York.
While considerably smaller than the Walker, the KMA is well-positioned to increase its audience and programs, as Alexander intends. It’s about 50 miles north of New York City in Westchester County, near one of the country’s leading sculpture gardens, Storm King, and the headquarters for PepsiCo and IBM, both prominent corporate art collectors.
“Being an executive director affords a lot of opportunity in terms of shaping an institution,” Alexander said. “It’s in a great area just outside New York, in a beautiful building, and it’s closer to my family. It’s just a great challenge and opportunity.”
During her five-year tenure at the Walker, Alexander made her biggest splash with “Benches & Binoculars,” a whimsical installation of paintings and works on paper hung floor to ceiling in a two-story gallery where visitors lounged on couches and peered at the art through binoculars. She invited film auteur John Waters to curate “Absentee Landlord,” an unconventional selection from the Walker’s collection. And she arranged the Walker’s purchase of the 3,000-piece archive of the Merce Cunningham dance troupe, including original objects and canvasses by Pop Art stars Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg.
“International Pop,” a show she’s been working on for three years, will open at the Walker in 2015 before traveling to Dallas and Philadelphia.
The Walker has “no immediate plans for a search to fill [her] post,” spokesman Ryan French said. The museum is looking at its structure and considering a number of options.
In the interim, the Walker’s director, Olga Viso, will oversee curatorial affairs “as we search for new curatorial talent for the team,” she said in a statement.
“All of us at the Walker are very excited about Darsie’s new appointment and I am delighted to have a new colleague among the museum director ranks,” Viso said.
Alexander is married to David Little, photography curator at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts. Like many couples with rarefied jobs in the same field, theirs will be a commuter marriage when she starts work March 1. “I’m delighted for Darsie; it’s a great opportunity,” Little said Tuesday. As for his own plans, he said, “I’m here and committed here.”
The KMA occupies a building designed by Edward Larrabee Barnes, whose most famous building is the Walker’s 1971 brick-clad wing. Like the Walker, the KMA offers lectures, films, workshops and concerts as well as art exhibitions. It does not have a collection of its own, but organizes and brings in shows from “all cultures and time periods.” It attracts about 40,000 visitors annually.
Alexander previously was senior curator at the Baltimore Museum of Art. She grew up in Massachusetts and began her career as a photo curator at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. She and Little have two school-age daughters.