The Walker Art Center has named Olga Viso its new director effective January 2008. Viso, director of the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, succeeds Kathy Halbreich whose 16 1/2-year tenure ends November 1. As director of the Hirshhorn since 2005, Viso has headed one of the world’s leading museums of international modern and contemporary art, whose collection includes artworks from the mid-19th century to the present.
“It is an immense privilege to lead such an innovative and distinguished institution as the Walker—its long history of presenting groundbreaking contemporary programming; its deep commitment to fostering new art, artists, and audiences; and its cross-disciplinary model make it singular. The Walker’s exciting new facility and its exceptional staff in the visual, performing, and media arts—led by deputy director and chief curator Philippe Vergne—play a vital role in both the Twin Cities and global contemporary art communities,” said Viso.
“We know that Olga will build on the Walker’s international acclaim and Kathy Halbreich’s extraordinary legacy of inspired leadership,” said Steve Shank, president of the Walker’s Board of Directors. “In Olga we’ve found a proven leader in the field, a respected scholar of contemporary art, and a true passion for global artists.”
Viso has distinguished herself as a curator, scholar, and administrator at the Smithsonian and rose quickly to leadership at the Hirshhorn. She joined the curatorial department of the museum in 1995 as assistant curator, was named associate curator in 1998, and served as curator of contemporary art from 2000 to 2003. In October 2003, Viso was named deputy director of the Hirshhorn, working in the artistic direction, strategic planning, and daily management of the museum. She also played a key role in enlarging and reconstituting the museum’s advisory board of trustees and revitalizing the vision for the nation’s museum of modern and contemporary art. She was named the fourth director of the museum in September 2005, succeeding Ned Rifkin.
“Olga has proven to be one of the most luminous new individuals in the museum field,” said Rifkin. “Her experience makes her ideally qualified for the opportunities that await her at the Walker. From having worked closely with her throughout the years, I know that she will apply her considerable talents to this great organization with characteristic passion, intelligence, and spirit. The Walker is extremely fortunate to have succeeded in making this inspired appointment.”
Under Viso’s direction, the Hirshhorn has shifted its focus to present a decidedly more contemporary program of international art produced in all media. She has extended the museum’s presentations beyond the gallery spaces and engaged the public with artists and installations in the museum entry lobby, sculpture garden, plaza, on the façade of the building, and around the city. The museum has also embraced a more artist-focused and experimental attitude evidenced by timely exhibitions such as The Uncertainty of Objects and Ideas: Recent Sculpture that take the pulse of the moment. Ongoing projects like “Ways of Seeing,” and “Collection in Context” have invigorated the presentation of the museum’s rich collection by inviting artists and creative thinkers to create installations that forge engaging dialogues between modern and contemporary art. During her tenure the museum also initiated a number of programs to engage more directly with the Washington-area community, including the popular After Hours series, “Meet the Artist” lectures, and “Artist at Work” and “ArtLab for Teens,” programs for children and youth led by resident artists.
During her 12 years with the museum, Viso has been instrumental in the acquisition of numerous important contemporary artworks and has organized or co-organized significant exhibitions of leading artists such as Ana Mendieta (2004), Juan Muñoz (2001), and Robert Gober’s highly celebrated installation at the 2001 Venice Biennale, as well as group shows, including Distemper: Dissonant Themes in the Art of the 1990s (1996) and Regarding Beauty: A View of the Late Twentieth Century (1999-2000). She is currently working on the major exhibition, Guillermo Kuitca: A Survey, which will tour in 2009 in partnership with the Albright-Knox and Miami Art Museum.
While curator of contemporary art, Viso led the Hirshhorn’s Directions series—a showcase for emerging artists—spotlighting artists such as Dan Steinhilber (2003), Ernesto Neto (2002), Cathy de Monchaux (2000), Sam Taylor-Wood (1999), Toba Khedoori (1997-1998), and Beverly Semmes (1996) early in their careers.
Prior to joining the Smithsonian, Viso was a curator at the Norton Museum of Art (West Palm Beach, Florida), where she helped develop a forum for the work of contemporary artists, and held several curatorial and administrative positions at the High Museum of Art (Atlanta, Georgia).
Viso has served on the Federal Advisory Committee on International Exhibitions—the committee that selects projects to represent the United States in international biennials—and was co-commissioner for the U.S. Pavilion at the 2001 Venice Biennale.
Born in Florida to Cuban émigré parents, Viso is well known for her expertise in contemporary Latin American art—making it a fundamental component of the Hirshhorn’s global perspective—and has introduced the work of Latino artists to new audiences through exhibitions, publications, and lectures.
Viso received her master’s degree in art history from Emory University (Atlanta, Georgia) in 1992.