After 12 years at the Smithsonian’s Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, including the last two as its director, Olga Viso is leaving to replace Kathy Halbreich as the new director of the Walker Art Center. The announcement, made Wednesday, follows Halbreich’s news in March that she’d be stepping down November 1 after more than 16 years. Part of the appeal of the Walker, Viso said, is its long history of daring curating and an environment that “fosters a cross-fertilization across disciplines” — a reference to the Walker’s film/video and performing arts programs.
“I feel very lucky to have this incredible platform that [Kathy]’s created,” she told the St. Paul Pioneer Press. “It’s a privilege to be able to continue to shape an institution that she so lovingly built and fostered.”
At the Hirshhorn, Viso curated a landmark retrospective of works by Cuban American artist Ana Mendiata, a survey of the work of Juan Munoz, and is currently assembling the major exhibition Guillermo Kuitca: A Survey. She is also overseeing the creation of the two-part exhibition The Cinema Effect: Illusion, Reality, and the Moving Image, which opens in 2008. Clearly, Viso’s curatorial experience and global vision for the arts is right in line with the Walker’s, which is opening two major international exhibitions in October–a nationally touring Frida Kahlo retrospective (opening October 27) and Brave New Worlds, a survey of international artists (opening October 4).
What direction Viso will take the Walker when she starts in January is anybody’s guess, but if media reports in recent days are any indication, it won’t be a radical departure from the Walker we’ve known — a multidisciplinary, risk-taking venue for artists and audiences.
Curators have consistently described Viso, who recently turned 41, as unusually supportive of their needs and ambitions, and as more committed to art and programming than to the purely administrative aspects of her job. Kerry Brougher, the Hirshhorn’s chief curator, spoke of Viso’s insistence that the institution needed to do a better job promoting itself and funding its programs. “But whatever happened in those contexts . . . it always came back to ‘Okay, but what is this doing for the artist?’ ” She supported his interest, he added, in “experimental and revisionist programs.”
“Part of what makes Walker appealing to me is that it has a strength in performing arts, but also in film and media. There’s a possibility to do even more cross-disciplinary programming and to encourage artists to use those platforms. Contemporary artistic practice is so cross-disciplinary in the world in which we live, and I think the Walker is uniquely positioned to create interesting platforms for artists in which to work.”