Pro­tect­ing his­tory

mu­seum direc­tor An­drew Wulf

Pasatiempo - - PASATIEMPO -


Paul Wei­de­man talks to An­drew Wulf, who takes the helm at the New Mex­ico His­tory Mu­seum/ Palace of the Gov­er­nors

Vin­tage mo­tor­cy­cles, Abra­ham Lin­coln, base­ball, the paint­ings of Niko­lai Get­man, and trea­sures from the Walt Dis­ney Ar­chives at the Ron­ald Rea­gan Pres­i­den­tial Li­brary and Mu­seum were among the ex­hi­bi­tion sub­jects An­drew Wulf staged dur­ing his five years as cu­ra­tor at the Na­tional Ar­chives. A proudly pro­claimed man of many in­ter­ests, Wulf is the new direc­tor of the New Mex­ico His­tory Mu­seum/Palace of the Gov­er­nors. He suc­ceeds long­time direc­tor Frances Levine, who is now pres­i­dent of the Mis­souri His­tory Mu­seum, St. Louis, and in­terim direc­tor Jon Hun­ner, pro­fes­sor of his­tory at New Mex­ico State Uni­ver­sity.

Be­fore his time at the Na­tional Ar­chives, dur­ing which he also su­per­vised a $12 mil­lion ren­o­va­tion of the Ron­ald Rea­gan Li­brary, he was cu­ra­tor of spe­cial col­lec­tions at the Uni­ver­sity of South­ern Cal­i­for­nia for six years. His ed­u­ca­tional cre­den­tials in­clude bach­e­lor’s de­grees in in­ter­na­tional re­la­tions and French and a mas­ter’s in art his­tory, all from the Uni­ver­sity of South­ern Cal­i­for­nia, and a PhD in mu­seum stud­ies from the Uni­ver­sity of Le­ices­ter, Eng­land. Wulf also stud­ied philol­ogy at the Sor­bonne and me­dieval ar­chi­tec­ture at Lon­don’s Cour­tauld In­sti­tute of Art. He is a re­cent grad­u­ate of the Getty Lead­er­ship In­sti­tute for Mu­seum Ex­ec­u­tives. His book, U.S. In­ter­na­tional Ex­hi­bi­tions Dur­ing the Cold War: Win­ning Hearts and Minds Through Cul­tural Diplo­macy, was pub­lished in Jan­uary by Row­man & Lit­tle­field.

Pasatiempo: Where were you raised?

An­drew Wulf: I grew up on the west side of Los An­ge­les, which was just quiet sub­ur­bia back then.

Pasa: Did you have early inklings that you would work in mu­se­ums and cu­rat­ing?

Wulf: I knew in my heart of hearts as a child that I wanted to be in the mu­seum game. That was be­cause my par­ents, who are a psy­chol­o­gist and an aerospace en­gi­neer, put all their fam­ily re­sources into travel, and it was of­ten to places that had out­stand­ing mu­se­ums. The ex­hi­bi­tion that made the great­est im­pres­sion on me was the King Tut ex­hi­bi­tion, which I saw at LACMA, the Los An­ge­les County Mu­seum of Art. Later on I found some of those same pieces at the na­tional mu­seum in Cairo, which I saw as a teenager. Pasa: Was Egypt a spe­cial in­ter­est? Wulf: Not nec­es­sar­ily. I’m very much a gen­er­al­ist. My first job was work­ing in ed­u­ca­tion and membership at the Vic­to­ria and Al­bert Mu­seum in Lon­don. At USC I did about 30 ex­hi­bi­tions on an ar­ray of sub­jects. Most of that was as a cu­ra­tor, and the lion’s share dealt with so­cially rel­e­vant his­tory such as the Ar­me­nian geno­cide, the Hungarian revo­lu­tion, and the his­tory of book burning, as well as lighter sub­jects, in­clud­ing The Cu­ri­ous World of Lewis Car­roll, vi­sion­ary car de­signs in the space age, the story of Don Quixote, and The Art of the Al­bum Cover.

Pasa: How much do you think that eclec­ti­cism came from your par­ents?

Wulf: One of the lux­u­ries of be­ing a cu­ra­tor is that you can be­come a devo­tee and a mini­ex­pert on each sub­ject, so I found that I was quite nim­ble at learn­ing and com­part­men­tal­iz­ing his­to­ries and bal­anc­ing that with the larger fo­cus of mu­seum work. But, yeah, my par­ents are pretty dif­fer­ent from each other. They are both self-made peo­ple from hum­ble back­grounds; they’re a per­fect ex­am­ple of the Amer­i­can dream. They gave my brother and me a tremen­dous amount, across the board. Pasa: Tell us about your book. Wulf: At one point I was talked out of pur­su­ing a PhD in art his­tory, but I kept my ideas open for other PhD pro­grams be­cause I knew I wanted to write a book. At USC I be­came a fel­low at the Cen­ter on Public Diplo­macy be­cause I had writ­ten about pro­pa­ganda in U.S. for­eign pol­icy. As time went on I be­came ac­quainted with peo­ple who had been in­volved in U.S. in­ter­na­tional ex­hi­bi­tions dur­ing the Cold War.

Pasa: Did you write about the U.S. ex­hi­bi­tion in Moscow in 1959?

Wulf: I did. I have a chap­ter on it, dis­cussing the de­bate be­tween Nixon and Khrushchev. [The ex­hi­bi­tion was nick­named] Split­nik be­cause there was a U.S. home that was cut in half so Rus­sians could walk through it and see how much bet­ter life was in the U.S. In the book, I also look at trade fairs in the 1950s, the­matic ex­hi­bi­tions and world’s fair pavil­ions in the 1960s, and the Charles and Ray Eames ex­hi­bi­tion The World of Franklin and Jef­fer­son.

The fel­low who gave me the most in­for­ma­tion was Jack Masey. He got his start in de­sign as part of Pat­ton’s ghost army in World War II, and he shared his fox­hole with Ellsworth Kelly, Art Kane, and Bill Blass, if you can imag­ine that kind of group­ing of cre­ativ­ity.

This all ties to­gether with my world of mu­seum jobs, be­cause I’m a stu­dent of mu­se­ums and de­sign and his­tory.

Pasa: The main ex­hi­bi­tion at the His­tory Mu­seum is long-term — Telling New Mex­ico: Sto­ries From Then

and Now. What about chang­ing shows?

Wulf: We have sev­eral chang­ing ex­hi­bi­tion spa­ces. Two of the ex­hi­bi­tions,

Po­et­ics of Light and Paint­ing the Di­vine, will come down next year. We’re mak­ing way for a coun­ter­cul­ture ex­hi­bi­tion and a lowrider ex­hi­bi­tion.

The core ex­hibit is very tra­di­tional but daz­zling. It takes a strict chrono­log­i­cal ap­proach to New Mex­ico his­tory, but I like to think that we have a sub­tle mix of the very pre­scribed — this is New Mex­ico his­tory from soup to nuts — and some­thing looser. I’m re­ally urg­ing our ad­mis­sion clerks to ask peo­ple com­ing in what they’re most in­ter­ested in learn­ing, whether it’s the Man­hat­tan Project or the Pue­blo Re­volt or what­ever they most want to see. This is just a phe­nom­e­nal mu­seum, and meet­ing the staff back in my first in­ter­view was a ma­jor sell­ing point.

Pasa: Last year Jon Hun­ner talked about the work needed on the court­yard walls of the Palace of the Gov­er­nors. That de­pends on a spe­cial ses­sion of leg­is­la­ture pass­ing a cap­i­tal con­struc­tion bill, and it looks like that will not hap­pen.

Wulf: In­deed. And the Palace is an im­mense re­spon­si­bil­ity. There’s noth­ing more im­por­tant to us than pro­tect­ing that his­tory. A lot of the is­sues are most ap­par­ent in the court­yard, but there is other ex­te­rior work to be done and in­te­rior im­prove­ments needed as well. Pasa: Is any­thing at the Palace in dire need of ad­dress­ing? Wulf: No. What we’re deal­ing with is mainly cos­metic. The Palace of the Gov­er­nors is just some­thing that we are blessed to be the ste­wards of, and it will al­ways need some TLC. And if the leg­is­la­ture doesn’t step up now, we’re hope­ful they will next time. When we have the fund­ing, we are ready to leap into ac­tion.

Santa Fe is so spe­cial; it is a global des­ti­na­tion, but my al­le­giance re­ally is to New Mex­ico. Ev­ery week­end I’m driv­ing to a dif­fer­ent des­ti­na­tion in the state, and I want to part­ner with ev­ery county and also team with the public li­braries around New Mex­ico. I would like to do not only mini ex­hibits in the li­braries but also of­fer to do oral his­to­ries with peo­ple from all cor­ners of the state.

Pasa: How do you fund those li­brary ex­hi­bi­tions and oral his­to­ries and the new ex­hi­bi­tions here at the mu­seum? What’s your grand fi­nan­cial plan for the His­tory Mu­seum?

Wulf: Our num­ber-one part­ner is the New Mex­ico Mu­seum Foun­da­tion. We work with them to raise funds for all of our pro­gram­ming. The one thing they can’t help us with is bricks and mor­tar.

In terms of a grand fi­nan­cial plan, I want to make as many friends as I can and work as closely as pos­si­ble with the foun­da­tion, be­cause a lot of our out­reach for fund­ing comes through work­ing with gen­er­ous phil­an­thropic in­di­vid­u­als and grant writ­ing, and the foun­da­tion helps us on all fronts. Pasa: Of course, there is com­pe­ti­tion among the mu­se­ums for funds. Wulf: There is, but my men­tors in the field taught me that col­lab­o­ra­tion can get you much fur­ther. I’m all about col­lab­o­ra­tion and some­times try­ing the un­ortho­dox. My big­gest con­cern, in ad­di­tion to push­ing the re­ally in­no­va­tive ideas of my cu­ra­tors, is that I think it’s OK to take cre­ative risks in this field.

I’d like to do an ex­hi­bi­tion on Break­ing Bad and bring to light more of the so­cial prob­lems that ex­ist in this state. Be­lieve you me, I al­ready call this state home. I love living here. I look for­ward to be­ing a long­time New Mex­ico res­i­dent. But noth­ing’s taboo. We al­ready told the very tra­di­tional story very ef­fec­tively. Pasa: Are you go­ing to cu­rate? Wulf: No. Our four cu­ra­tors — Mered­ith [David­son], Josef [Díaz], Daniel [Kosharek], and Tom [Leech] — are bril­liant, and they do plenty of good work on their own. We’ll riff on ideas, but I won’t foist or force things on them.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.