How a Guggenheim advisor tries to curate new experiences

December 05, 2015 08:03
Alexandra Munroe has been senior curator of Asian art and senior advisor for global arts at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and Foundation since 2006. Photo: HKEJ

Alexandra Munroe, senior curator of Asian art and senior advisor for global arts at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and Foundation in New York, is an international person with an Asian upbringing.

Born in the United States to a father who loves history and a mother who is a painter, Munroe was raised in Japan and Mexico and has visited numerous museums, churches and temples since an early age.

Living and traveling overseas, she was also able to get in touch with art historians, curators and artists from around the world. 

While she had many external influences, Munroe says it is her mother who did the most to shape her interests and life as a curator.

My mom inspired me to look at arts seriously and realize that it is something indispensable in life, she says.

As her mother had a workshop at home, there were art creations always around the house. In the meantime, Munroe also learnt about mood swings that affect most artists.

To communicate effectively with artists, one needs the right skills and also the ability to understand the minds of those people, she says.

Conducting curatorial work, however, is not about scattering some objects into a space.

Munroe describes the work as being akin to a theatrical play, with a beginning and a closure. Viewers have to be made to undergo a journey with reference to a specific time frame.

Some exhibits will make people laugh, while some will make them cry. But in the end, it might make people feel a little bit different.

In order to cast such an influence, curators should first ensure wonderful collections and then do some editorial work. 

A good curator knows how to narrow down the scope while conducting exhibitions, Munroe says, outlining the need for new, clear and sentimental experiences for the audience.

She says exhibitions can help bring forth change in academia and society.

Her endeavor is to put forward a more progressive way of viewing history, says Munroe, who wants to bring further change to the Americans' perception of viewing art.

The important issue is how to create art history that actually reflects the reality, she says.

In Hong Kong, there were once keen discussions on whether the city's M+ museum should go international or be localized. Munroe believes the facility should embrace both, citing the Guggenheim Museum as an example.

The Guggenheim has 60 percent of its traffic made up of people from overseas.

Munroe regards Hong Kong as the only genuine international city of China. The city should embrace internationalism as well as local culture, she says.

Asked if she finds Hong Kong's art ecology too business-oriented, Munroe says it is a phenomenon that is happening everywhere in the world and that Hong Kong is not an isolated case.

In her opinion, strong market forces are not a bad idea, as they can help enhance art education and allow the public to get in touch with artworks in daily life.

Curators ought to stay independent and make good use of the market power, but not ignore it or be overwhelmed by it, Munroe says.

In order to maintain a healthy ecosystem, curators should encourage art discussions, academic research, growth of related media and museums, she added.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Dec. 1.

Translation by Darlie Yiu

[Chinese version中文版]

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Munroe took the lead in The Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation Chinese Art Initiative and hosted an exhibition of Wang Jianwei last year. Photo: HKEJ
Munroe (right) seen in a picture with Yoko Ono, who is a good friend. Photo: HKEJ
The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York. The picture on the right shows a display from an exhibition of Chinese aritst Wang Jianwei's works: Time Temple. Photos: The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum

Writer of the Hong Kong Economic Journal