An hour before the walker art center opens for the day, Clara Kim is walking the halls, reminiscing. “The Oldenburg plug…,” she says dreamily, stopping beneath Claes Oldenburg’s iconic electrical plug hanging droopily over the lobby stairs. For Kim, it’s a reunion—she began her career as an intern at the Walker in 1997. “It’s what made me want to be a curator,” she says of the experience.
Now she is one. Kim started last month as the Walker’s senior curator of visual arts, having spent the last seven and a half years as the founding gallery director of the famously experimental REDCAT art center in Los Angeles. Before that, she worked in San Francisco at the Museum of Modern Art. Along the way, she noted the respect accorded the Walker. “People have a soft spot for this place,” she says.
Born in South Korea, Kim specializes in vanguard artists from the Pacific Rim—a boon to Minnesotans curious about the art emerging from the fastest-developing corner of the world. Last year, she co-curated Media City Seoul, South Korea’s international biennial. At REDCAT, she brought in sensational shows like that of Atelier Bow Wow, the edgy design firm based in Tokyo, which installed exotic re-imaginings of California domestic spaces (hammock houses, barbecue decks) inside the museum.
Next May, Kim will oversee a video installation at the Walker by the Seoul-based artist Minouk Lim, known for her critiques of modernization. Lim, she says, defies the stereotype that the current Asian art boom is simply about flash and cash. “These artists are more engaged with ideas as opposed to, you know, selling,” she says.
Kim, who is 36, will be filling a role that’s been vacant since 2008. (Philippe Vergne, who left the Walker that year as its chief curator and deputy director, had the title when Kim was an intern.) She has much to do. But at the moment, she’s re-familiarizing herself. She left, after all, before the Walker expanded. She wonders, too, if the Bryant-Lake Bowl, her old haunt, still exists. Before she can push us to the edge, it seems, she needs her feet firmly planted.
5 Things You Didn’t Know About Clara
1. She was a biochemistry major at Berkeley before shifting her focus to art.
2. She’s brought along her ride from car-obsessed L.A.: a 1991 BMW that’s a design icon.
3. She learned to drive stick from one of the members of the Danish art collective Superflex.
4. At REDCAT, she routinely spied celebrity art patrons, including Forest Whitaker.
5. Her favorite hangout during her Walker intern days was the Bryant-Lake Bowl.