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Working Knowledge: the Walker’s visual arts curatorial fellows

This is a longer version of the interviews with visual arts fellows Dan Byers and Andria Hickey, from a story in the July/August issue of Walker magazine. Design fellow Noa Segal has posted her interview and Mylinh Trieu’s over on the design blog. For nearly three decades, the Walker has been recruiting recent graduates and […]

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Left to right: Mylinh Trieu Nguyen (Los Angeles); Andria Hickey (St. John's, Newfoundland);Dan Byers (Newton, Massachusetts); Noa Segal (Haifa, Israel) Photo: Gene Pittman

This is a longer version of the interviews with visual arts fellows Dan Byers and Andria Hickey, from a story in the July/August issue of Walker magazine. Design fellow Noa Segal has posted her interview and Mylinh Trieu’s over on the design blog.

For nearly three decades, the Walker has been recruiting recent graduates and junior professionals to work as fellows in its design and visual arts departments. As full-time, full-fledged staff, fellows experience the entire scope of graphic design and curatorial work in a museum, while bringing with them fresh energy and new ideas. A number of Walker fellows have also gone on to prominent positions at museums and design firms around the world. As their time here draws to a close, the 2008-2009 group talks about what brought them here, what they’ve experienced, and what’s in store as they move on.

= Daniel Byers =

I got into this line of work because … after some time as a studio art major in college (mostly painting, some textiles stuff), I realized I wasn’t the sort to of person who could be by himself in the studio for hours on end – people, and collaborative work are very important to me. Working with artists and Ian Berry, the curator at Skidmore’s Tang Museum, provided a model for being engaged with artists and artwork – as well as writing – in a collaborative, experimental environment. In a way, I was also attracted to a line of work where taste, aesthetics, theory, history, craft and the sense of sustaining public culture all connected.

My first impressions of the Walker came from …

I’ve known about the Walker since I was an undergraduate at the Tang Museum, and admired the publications (from the magazine to the beautiful catalogs) that came across my desk. It always seemed a sort of beacon of — to use an abused word — maverick integrity, creativity, and commitment to artists. Since working at the Fabric Workshop and Museum I’d always hoped that I’d end up at the Walker one day.

While working here, I contributed … to catalogs for two Walker-organized exhibitions: The Quick and the Dead and the forthcoming Abstract Resistance (opening in February 2010). Equally import were the many, many meetings and discussions with fellow visual arts staff and staff from other departments, which more often than not allowed real discourse — and a good amount of humor.

Other high (and low) points … Quick and the Dead catalog writing and crazy work before its deadline (this was a simultaneous high and low point!); discussions with curator Yasmil Raymond about Abstract Resistance; karaoke with selected Walker curators (they know how they are) at the Art of This benefit; laughing at lunch with the visual arts department.

I love what I do because … I get to work with interesting people, I get to research and write, I get to talk about art, and most important, I participate in the creation of public culture. Curating, is, at its core, enabling artworks — culture — to enter the public discourse, in a public space. I’m committed to the relevance of art exhibitions the same way I’m committed to the survival of newspapers, public space in cities, public radio, small businesses as community meeting places, music venues — anything that allows people to meet around information, opinion, and expressions of culture. We need these spaces more than ever, and sadly they are withering as private culture and personalized content dominate our sense of how to engage with the world.

A Twin Cities image that will remain with me is … walking to work in January: two dead squirrels on the sidewalk, frozen from the cold, separated by a few blocks. Good thing I had a heavy coat.

After leaving the Walker … I will be working as an assistant curator of contemporary art at the Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh–a position I would not have gotten without my experience at the Walker.

An exhibition I have in mind … involves Charles Burchfield and a few artists from younger generations. Burchfield’s work is hard to place and its incredible otherworldliness has interesting analogs with artists working through the 60s to today.

= Andria Hickey =

Before coming to the Walker . . . my experiences working with artists really centered around my involvement with artist-run centers in Newfoundland and Montreal as a programmer and board member. In Canada these centers form an extensive part of the national contemporary art scene. I’d followed the Walker for a long time, mostly by way of the Web site and catalogues, and I had always admired how it maintained an artist-centric mission. When I received a travel grant from my school (Concordia University in Montreal) to do some research for my master’s thesis on Kara Walker, I jumped at the opportunity and soon discovered the fellowship program–it seemed like a dream job. One thing led to another, and two years later, here I am. It’s been an incredible opportunity to work with and for some of the most exciting artists of our time.

I wanted to come to the Walker because . . . Besides getting to work with some of my dream artists and on dream exhibitions, joining the curatorial team is a very rigorous experience that has challenged me to think outside the box, push myself and my ideas harder. Just observing ways that different curators work is an incredible experience, and as a fellow I really became part of a family at the Walker. I’m not sure if the chemistry comes from the level of dedication, creativity, and brains in the building, or from the extreme cold–winter in Minneapolis is colder than Canada!

Some of my high points . . . hanging the Richard Prince show with Philippe Vergne; burying a skeleton and working out the “spatial voodoo” of The Quick and the Dead with Peter Eleey; trying to fly a homemade hot air balloon at 5 am in rural Minnesota with Tomás Saraceno, Yasmil Raymond, Alberto Pessavento, and James Flaten, followed by a “traditional” Perkins breakfast.