MU­SE­UMS

Chicago Tribune (Sunday) - - A+E - By Steve John­son The DePaul Art Mu­seum was closed, as it usu­ally is on Tues­days. But when a DePaul Univer­sity stu­dent who works there walked up to the front door with friends and fam­ily mem­bers in tow, she was greeted by none other than mu­seum Di­rec­tor Ju

Julie Ro­drigues Wid­holm,

mu­seum in “New Age,” ac­cord­ing to DPAM.

But another part of it was the nerve struck by the show’s ex­am­i­na­tion of how the 1960s and ’70s New Age move­ment lives on and finds new threads in the work of cur­rent artists, said Wid­holm.

“It re­ally res­onated with sort of a younger gen­er­a­tion who are re­ally in­ter­ested in tarot and as­trol­ogy and kind of mak­ing sense of the world post-Trump,” she said. “I re­ally think the tim­ing was per­fect.”

The show came out of Wid­holm’s long-stand­ing cu­ra­to­rial phi­los­o­phy of be­ing out in the world, vis­it­ing with artists, see­ing what they make.

In re­cent years, she said, “I had been ob­serv­ing in artists’ work th­ese ref­er­ences to sort of New Age aes­thet­ics and philoso­phies. And so we had an open­ing in the sched­ule, and I just de­ter­mined, now’s the time. Let’s just do it.”

The show also fit with a another one of Wid­holm’s hall­marks, “a deep com­mit­ment to di­ver­sity and in­clu­sion,” as she put it in the mu­seum’s most re­cent an­nual cat­a­log. “In 2018/19, our ex­hi­bi­tions fea­tured pri­mar­ily artists of color, women and LGBTQ artists.”

Part of that com­mit­ment stems from hav­ing seen so much of the world her­self. Wid­holm grew up an “Army brat,” she said, liv­ing 11 places in 20 years, in­clud­ing Ge­or­gia, In­di­ana, Kansas and Cal­i­for­nia in the states, and Mozam­bique and Brazil over­seas. Her high school years were spent in Por­tu­gal and Ger­many.

She en­tered col­lege at the Univer­sity of Illi­nois plan­ning to be­come a cul­tural at­tache in the State De­part­ment. But the art ap­pre­ci­a­tion she learned in a high school course, and from art books given her by a grand­mother, took hold, and she fin­ished with a dou­ble ma­jor in art history and po­lit­i­cal science.

“I just re­ally got in­volved and fell in love with mu­seum work,” in­tern­ing at the school’s mu­seum, she said. “For me, con­tem­po­rary art in mu­seum spa­ces be­came a space where in­ter­na­tional af­fairs and cul­ture came to­gether.”

Grad­u­ate school at the School of the Art In­sti­tute fol­lowed, and then a 1999 one-year re­search as­sis­tant job at the MCA led to her be­ing hired there full time as a cu­ra­tor and ris­ing through the ranks, as Dar­ling put it.

A high­light there, said Wid­holm, was co-cu­rat­ing the haunt­ing first ca­reer ret­ro­spec­tive of the revered Colom­bian artist Doris Sal­cedo. “Her work is so ger­mane to art history, to the cur­rent po­lit­i­cal mo­ment, to aes­thetic con­ver­sa­tions,” the cu­ra­tor said as the 2015 show pre­pared to open.

“She was just a re­ally great col­league and just a re­ally even-keeled per­son and very car­ing, but also will­ing to share her frank opin­ion on things,” Dar­ling said. “She has a re­ally good bed­side man­ner with artists, which is of course a key part of the job. And I think she just does a re­ally good job of get­ting out into stu­dios and see­ing artists and hav­ing a real em­pa­thy for what they’re do­ing.”

When the op­por­tu­nity at DePaul came up, it seemed the right fit at the right time, es­pe­cially be­cause the po­si­tion al­lowed her to also hold the ti­tle of chief cu­ra­tor, said Wid­holm, who lives in Oak Park with her fam­ily.

DePaul’s is, she pointed out, the city’s new­est art mu­seum, “and as a 21st cen­tury mu­seum, we are in a po­si­tion to ques­tion tra­di­tions and prac­tices within mu­se­ums, es­pe­cially as an aca­demic art mu­seum to sort of bring our au­di­ences in with us as we ques­tion, OK, how have mu­se­ums done things in the past? … His­tor­i­cally mu­se­ums’ foun­da­tions are kind of as colo­nial in­sti­tu­tions and sup­port­ing a kind of white pa­tri­archy. So for us it’s a mat­ter of tap­ping into the mis­sion of the univer­sity at large around help­ing marginal­ized pop­u­la­tions and com­mu­ni­ties. Giv­ing them greater vis­i­bil­ity is at the core of what we’re try­ing to do.”

She’s en­thu­si­as­tic about a March show, cu­rated by the Univer­sity of Florida art mu­seum, that caught her eye, “The World to Come: Art in the Age of the An­thro­pocene.”

“And I’m re­ally ex­cited about our fall 2020 sea­son where we’re turn­ing over the en­tire mu­seum to Lat­inx and Latin Amer­i­can hold­ings from the col­lec­tion,” she said, which will be­gin a “mul­ti­year Lat­inx ini­tia­tive” meant to ad­dress a gap she and her staff have iden­ti­fied in art mu­se­ums across the coun­try.

“I just can’t un­der­es­ti­mate what a priv­i­lege it is to be able to lead an art mu­seum, and I take it very se­ri­ously,” she said. “I re­ally think that we have to be in­ten­tional and mind­ful about who’s get­ting space in our cul­tural in­sti­tu­tions.”

For the 2019 Chicagoans of the Year, the Tri­bune asked each re­cip­i­ent the fol­low­ing ques­tions about the decade of arts in Chicago:

Q: Looking over the past decade, what was the most im­por­tant event that im­pacted the Chicago arts scene?

A: Art De­sign Chicago (the year­long 2018 event that spon­sored dozens of ex­hi­bi­tions and public events re­lated to the city’s vis­ual arts legacy).

Q: Looking for­ward to 2020, what is the most crit­i­cal is­sue that needs to be ad­dressed in the arts and what per­son or in­sti­tu­tions are best equipped to have an im­pact on that is­sue?

A: All arts in­sti­tu­tions need to ad­dress is­sues of eq­uity and in­clu­sion in a mean­ing­ful way so that our in­sti­tu­tions re­main vi­brant and rel­e­vant. More specif­i­cally, I be­lieve we all need to give more space to in­ter­sec­tional Lat­inx artists and ex­pe­ri­ences which have been marginal­ized for decades and will shape the fu­ture of our coun­try.

E. JA­SON WAMBSGANS/CHICAGO TRI­BUNE

E. JA­SON WAMBSGANS/CHICAGO TRI­BUNE

DePaul Art Mu­seum Di­rec­tor Julie Ro­drigues Wid­holm.

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