Last week, the Speed Art Museum announced that Erika Holmquist-Wall will become the museum’s chief curator on January 30.
Additionally, she will also retain her position as curator of European and American Painting and Sculpture.
I spoke with Holmquist-Wall about her desire to catapult the Speed into the digital age, what the process of “becoming acquainted” with the museum’s massive collection was like, and what curators can do to present old art in new ways. You can listen in the player above.
On making the Speed a digital space:
“Now that we’ve gotten to know our collections, we can move forward with really developing content that’s going to resonate with our audiences. We don’t quite know what that looks like — I mean, as you know, digital platforms are always changing. I do know that we want to have much more of a presence on social media. Whether we are sharing artworks, our programs, exhibitions — I don’t want to sound trite, but bringing more art into people’s lives.”
On what “getting acquainted” with a new art collection looks like:
“It’s funny because when I arrived, everything was in storage, and all of the ‘Old Masters’ were in a storage facility up in Maryland, so they were completely inaccessible to actually see the art, which of course is so important. It’s crucial. So I did have opportunities to see as much as I could before things returned from storage, but it entails reading the dossier files, the object files on everything, getting up-to-Speed — no pun intended — on the scholarship, attribution issues.”
On the ways curators can present old arts in new ways:
“That is probably the biggest challenge that I have. It’s also the one that is most exciting to me. I mean, I went into art history because I love art history, and ultimately it’s about storytelling. And what I say on my tours when I take people through the Old Master gallery, I really invite them to really look, look for clues in the painting that make these works relatable, relevant.
“Human nature — there’s nothing new about it. When you look at portraits, look at group portraits, look at expressions, look at gestures, there is nothing new under the sun. And that is really what you can find that is so magical about looking at old paintings and making them exciting again, and bringing the stories back to life.”