Olga Viso will step down as executive director of the Walker Art Center, a position she has held since 2008, the museum announced Tuesday.
Viso, who oversaw a $75 million fundraising campaign and the completion of a major campus renovation, will serve through the end of 2017. The museum’s board plans to form a search committee to find her replacement, and five-member Office of the Executive Director will lead the museum in the interim.
“It has been a privilege to lead this venerable contemporary arts institution the last 10 years and to support the work of some of the most compelling and adventurous international artists working today across disciplinary boundaries,” Viso said in a press release. “Completing the vision for the campus that began in 2005 with the Walker’s Herzog and DeMeuron addition has been an absolute highlight. I am immensely proud of what we — the Walker’s talented and ambitious staff and the generous community of donors who stepped up boldly — have accomplished together.”
Those accomplishments include the 2016–2017 reconstruction of the 11-acre Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, operated in cooperation with the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board.
Reopening festivities for the garden were overshadowed by the controversy surrounding artist Sam Durant’s “Scaffold,” a sculpture based on the designs of historic gallows, including one used to execute 38 Dakota men following the 1862 U.S.-Dakota War in southern Minnesota. A protest delayed the garden’s scheduled June reopening, and the Walker eventually agreed to dismantle the sculpture after talks with Dakota elders. Viso took responsibility for the episode.
The controversy awkwardly coincided with the opening of a retrospective on the expatriate sculptor Jimmie Durham, whose claims to be of Cherokee descent are disputed by tribe members.
In addition to two rounds of layoffs, Viso’s tenure was marked by the departure of a number of top staff members, including former chief curator Darsie Alexander, who now heads the Katonah Museum of Art in New York; former senior curator Andrew Blauvelt, now director of the Cranbrook Art Museum in Michigan; Eric Crosby, who was an associate curator when he left for Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Museum of Art; and former assistant curator Bart Ryan, who took a post as Milton Fine Curator of Art at the Andy Warhol Museum, also located in Pittsburgh.
The Walker under Viso organized a number of popular exhibitions, including “Hippie Modernism,” “International Pop” and “Merce Cunningham: Common Time.” The daughter of Cuban immigrants, Viso served as an advisor on a survey of post-revolution Cuban art, “Adios Utopia: Drams and Deceptions in Cuban Art Since 1950,” that opened at the museum earlier this month.
“We are grateful for Olga’s leadership and celebrate her significant contributions to the Walker Art Center during the past 10 years,” said Monica Nassif, president of the museum’s board, in a statement. “… We wish her well for her next career opportunity. As we look beyond this transition, the Walker Board is focused on fully activating the new campus, proceeding as a global artistic leader, continuing our commitments to be a more inclusive organization, and being responsive to community perspectives and political realities of this time.”
The team assembled to lead the museum during the search for a new executive director includes Chief Advancement Officer Christopher Stevens, CFO Mary Polta, Senior Curator Siri Engberg and Human Resources Director Rishi Donat.