Talk about a fruitful internship. In 1997, a yearlong fellowship at the Walker Art Center launched Clara Kim—then a 22-year-old, freshly minted Berkeley grad—into an envy-inducing art career, parlaying curatorial stints at San Francisco’s Art Institute and Museum of Modern Art into a historic role at Los Angeles’ famously experimental REDCAT, where she helped open the art center as the founding gallery director. Starting this past August, Kim’s back at the Walker as its senior curator of visual arts. While she was in town looking for an apartment, we sat down to chat about her vision for the museum.
What does a senior curator of visual arts do? If the visual arts department is a sports team, are you the coach?
Clara Kim: Not a coach. Maybe a player/manager? I’m not just an administrator in an office. I get my kick working with artists on exhibitions. I love doing studio visits. It’s about working as a team and building a vision together.
Let’s talk about that vision. I’m guessing it’s informed by your area of expertise: artists from the Pacific Rim. What attracted you to that region?
CK: That came from working in California. I began my career in San Francisco, first at the Art Institute, then at the Museum of Modern Art. Artists in California come out of a completely different historical trajectory. You’re pretty removed—both geographically and culturally—from New York. You don’t have that New York legacy of Abstract Expressionism. I knew I wanted to look at a different kind of art history, one that may not be that well known in the mainstream art world. Also, I’m Korean. I moved to the U.S. when I was five, and I grew up outside of L.A. I had all kinds of direct contact with immigrants from Latin America and Asia. And of course, those places have long histories of contemporary art.
What’s the first project you have at the Walker?
CK: I’m working on an exhibition with a video artist named Minouk Lim. She’s shown a couple of times in the U.S. but isn’t very well known. She’s from Seoul, South Korea, which has a really interesting art scene. And she works in this interdisciplinary space, which is why she’s so perfect for the Walker. Her work ends up being a video installation. But it’s born of this integration of performance, theater, film, and music. That will open in May.
Then I’m working with [Walker curator] Siri Engberg on a permanent collection exhibition for the fall of 2012. The focus is on recent acquisitions. You know, the museum is constantly acquiring work, and sometimes those new acquisitions don’t show for a while. So the 2012 exhibition will really showcase what we’re collecting now. It will be very of-the-moment.
You’re also known as a scholar of “independent spaces.” What’s an independent space?
CK: They’re non-traditional, artist-initiated spaces—warehouse spaces, empty buildings, maybe working on projects on the outside of buildings. It’s interesting to go to places like Indonesia and Columbia, where there is no real art infrastructure and where there aren’t a lot of galleries or museum spaces. Some of the best places I’ve seen were in Indonesia, actually.
Okay, so artists from the Pacific Rim, independent spaces. How are those influences going to play out at the Walker? What’s up your sleeve?
CK: Well, those things will definitely inform what I do. But my perspective has always been broader, more global. I want to bring in artists that have not yet been recognized by the major museums. I think that’s one thing the Walker does really well. I really want to introduce some artists on the periphery. There will be names that the art world might not recognize.