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Q & A with Clara Kim, the Walker’s new senior curator for visual arts

China, Korea, Vietnam, Indonesia, Thailand, Mexico, Brazil, Columbia … and now Minneapolis. Clara Kim arrives here August 1 after some particularly intensive globetrotting (more on that below). She was was most recently gallery director/curator at REDCAT, downtown Los Angeles’ center for innovative visual, media and performing arts, where she has worked since its inception in […]

China, Korea, Vietnam, Indonesia, Thailand, Mexico, Brazil, Columbia … and now Minneapolis. Clara Kim arrives here August 1 after some particularly intensive globetrotting (more on that below). She was was most recently gallery director/curator at REDCAT, downtown Los Angeles’ center for innovative visual, media and performing arts, where she has worked since its inception in 2003. In her new role, Kim will continue to shape and develop the Walker’s program of exhibitions, artists’ residencies, acquisitions and special projects.

In between finishing a curatorial fellowship, preparing to host a two-day conference on it for international colleagues, and continuing her work at REDCAT – not to mention preparing to relocate – Kim has few moments to spare. However, she graciously used a few of them to answer some questions:

REDCAT is a relatively new institution for contemporary art, and you played a key role in building its international influence. What aspects of your work there are you bringing to the Walker?

REDCAT is a much smaller institution than the Walker but residencies and new commissions have been the core of its programming. Like the Walker, artists are central to the institution, which serves as a safe and supportive place for new artistic production. That along with an international, interdisciplinary perspective on contemporary artistic practice — which has also been very important to REDCAT, especially the Pacific Rim i.e. Asia and Latin America, as these regions are critical to Los Angeles and increasingly important in the global economic and cultural community.

You’re completing a circle of sorts by coming to Walker, since you began your career here as an intern in the late 90s. How have you seen contemporary art and the museum world evolving since then?

Immense changes. The boom and the subsequent downturn of the economy has greatly affected cultural production. As museums all over face pressure to meet the bottom line, we need to act and think creatively, and not lose sight of the things that matter.

What kinds of trends and ideas have dominated your practice as a curator?

I suppose a commitment to a diverse, international perspective on cultural production. I believe that art should challenge and open up our minds to new ideas and thoughts; as well as speak to the social and political moment we live in.

Can you talk about exhibitions, projects, or commissions you’ve undertaken that have stood out in your mind?

Two memorable projects for me at REDCAT are with the Tokyo-based architecture studio Atelier Bow-Wow – who created three original structures in response to their three-month residency in LA investigating the Case Study House program; and, more recently, Irish film/video artist Jesse Jones’ film shoot on the Russian choreographer Meyerhold’s studies in biomechanics that involved student actors and crew from CalArts. Integral to both projects was the collaboration, participation and engagement of many individuals across different fields and disciplines. The process of building relationships and trust became as critical as the end result. In fact, after the exhibition of Bow-Wow’s structures, which were made of recycled wood acquired through a local non-profit, we ended up dismantling the structures plank by plank and put the raw materials back into the cycle of use and circulation. It makes me very happy knowing that Bow-Wow’s houses morphed into skatebowls for at-risk urban youth and also helped beautification projects for Edgar Arceneaux’s Watts House Project.

Thanks to a curatorial fellowship from the Warhol Foundation, you recently had the opportunity to travel  throughout Asia and Latin America exploring alternative art spaces and independent projects. Any findings or experiences or travel anecdotes you can share from this experience?  

The research has been fascinating — full of surprises and contradictions — for instance, a region as wealthy as Hong Kong does not yet have a major contemporary art museum and a politically and economically unstable place such as Colombia has so many dynamic, critical artists and curators.

What did you learn from the fellowship that might affect your new role at the Walker?

That you need the support and participation of everyone in the building from top to bottom, from bottom to top, in order to make it work well.

What will you miss about Los Angeles? And/or what are you looking forward to in re-locating to Minneapolis/St. Paul?

Getting fresh produce year round. And taking up winter sports.