This November, the Walker Art Center will welcome Darsie Alexander as its new Chief Curator. Alexander, currently the Senior Curator and Department Head of Contemporary Art at the Baltimore Museum of Art, took the time to answer a few questions about her past work and her plans for the Minneapolis gallery.
Southwest Journal: Tell me a little about your background.
Alexander: My first art history class was at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where I had a great and very glamorous 20th century prof who exposed us to very challenging material in our freshman year. Though it was a survey, she explored certain artists with a great deal of depth. So, as with a lot of students who pursue intellectual or artistic careers, mine began with an inspiring teacher. Eventually, I transferred to Bates College in Maine, went on to Williams (College in Massachusetts) for graduate school, followed by a two-year fellowship at Harvard. So you see I like cold places.
SWJ: What are some of the past exhibitions you’ve worked on?
Alexander: I’ve done shows on abstract expressionism, performance art, contemporary staged photography, and am now working on a single-person project focusing on the Austrian artist Franz West, arguably one of the most important sculptors around today. This most recent project has been one of my first non-theme shows, and has been underway for about three years.
SWJ: How do you think your work at the Baltimore Museum of Art has made an impact on the local arts scene in Baltimore?
Alexander: I think my presence has been felt in two ways: by bringing artists of an international stature to the contemporary art scene in Baltimore, and by giving local artists a platform within the museum. I’ve done several exhibitions with a local spin; one concentrating on outdoor installations on the grounds of the museum, and another focusing on three or four people of note from the community. I’ve invited guest curators from the area to work with the collection, and sought purchases from regional artists that add important themes to the collection. Also, of course, many of my friends are artists.
SWJ: What drew you to the curator position the Walker Art Center?
Alexander: The Walker’s amazing exhibitions and programs have a long reach, and I have admired its adventuresome curatorial spirit for years. The books, the touring exhibitions, film and performance programs and educational initiatives set industry standards in many areas, so my enthusiasm for a job prospect at the Walker was instantaneous. I am really looking forward to working with the existing staff, including newly-installed director Olga Viso, who will advance the museum into an exciting new phase of its history. And everyone tells me Minnesota is a wonderful place to live.
SWJ: What do you find interesting about the Minneapolis arts scene? What particularly excites you about coming to the area?
Alexander: It’s abundantly clear, even for first-time visitors, that this is (a) thriving arts community. The numbers and opportunities for artists are really impressive, particularly because there is such a range of institutional support coming from very different organizations. The presence of specialized programs such as those offered by the Minnesota Center for Book Arts to the diverse contemporary programs of places like Franklin Art Works or Intermedia make the artistic horizon here extremely varied. The presence of the Minneapolis College of Art & Design adds a tremendous amount to the local scene as well. Clearly this is a good place to be an artist.
SWJ: What are some of the challenges do you think affect new artists in a place like Minneapolis?
Alexander: Being an artist can be a thrilling and challenging career path no matter where you live, but a supportive community is very important and it seems Minneapolis offers that. I know there will be many opportunities to get to know the artists and educators in town, and to help them in whatever way I can.
SWJ: How do you think you’re going to handle the adjustment from Baltimore to Minneapolis?
Alexander: I’m getting over my fear of heavily padded outerwear and gigantic winter boots. Those are obvious adjustments. I am not sure what the others will be!