Q&A- Melissa Chiu
Director, Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden
The circular Hirshhorn building on the National Mall in Washington is famous for its collections of European and US modern and contemporary art. Melissa Chiu, an Australian and the first non-American to lead the museum, stepped into the director’s job in 2014. In November she’ll host the 40th anniversary celebration of the museum’s founding at a gala in New York.
What's the idea behind the gala?
We want to create a festive occasion to recognise our founder Joseph H Hirshhorn, the New York financier and art collector who donated his collection to form the museum in 1974. Several hundred guests will gather in lower Manhattan to honour 40 artists whose paintings, sculptures, videos and photographs decorate our galleries and who made the museum what it is today. Marina Abramovic, Anish Kapoor and Jennie C Jones will attend and Theaster Gates will perform.
Fundraising is one element of your job. How does it work?
We’re part of the Smithsonian Institution and about half our annual budget comes from the government. I’m responsible for bringing in the rest from private sources. Our fundraising goal for the upcoming gala was $1.5m [€1.3m] and we reached it before the invitations were sent. Our board recently elected four new trustees who will add their energy and spirit to helping the museum grow. And we’re stepping up our connections to collectors by offering them the chance to meet artists in their studios and learn more about contemporary art.
Which artist are in your collection?
Our focus is on 20th- and 21st-century art. Our founder loved sculpture so we have substantial holdings in the world of Henry Moore, Alberto Giacometti and David Smith.
We also have one of the largest collections of Willem de Kooning paintings, plus stellar work by Francis Bacon and Mark Rothko.
You stepped into a museum in flux. What have you changed?
We’ve established several new positions, including a curator-at-large. We’re all charged with creating groundbreaking exhibitions, acquiring excellent new art and mobilising a sense of community around the museum.
How are you attracting younger visitors to the museum?
Younger audiences really like contemporary art. We’re reaching them through new programmes such as Meet the Artist lectures, Yoga on the Plaza, Happy Hours and our signature After Hours new-music programme. Our social-media accounts also attract attention. I’ll continue to expand our use of technology to reach wider audiences and help visitors understand our art.
What is your grand vision?
The founding mission was to present new art and we continue that tradition. We want to be the leading voice for artists and to reflect current affairs in the art world. To do this we’ll focus on the intersection between art and technology and new art practices.
How does the Hirshhorn fit into the greater art community?
We’re the national museum of modern and contemporary art so we have a national role to play in the contemporary-art world. Our focus has always been international and we’ll continue that.
Art + Object
Joining Simon Denny’s espionage-inspired installation at the 56th Venice Biennale this year is New Zealand auction house Art + Object. “As a small country a long way away from the larger international players, it is pleasing to see that we can compete favourably,” says Leigh Melville, who manages Art + Object’s art department.
Back in its native Auckland outpost, the auction house, which was founded in 2007, has gained national clout and packs an impressive Antipodean punch.Previous sales have included works from contemporary painter Bill Hammond and the late mid-century photographer Brian Brake.
Its last sale of the year on 26 November will see 95 lots on offer. The contemporary pieces will range from NZ$1,000 (€570) through to an estimated NZ$250,000 (€130,000) for one of Charles Frederick Goldie’s Maori portraits. Also set for auction is the portfolio of the Whakairo Collection, a group of New Zealand art-buyers who will be disbanding after 10 years.
Charles Frederick Goldie
“Wiripine Ninia – An Arawa Chieftainess”, 1922, oil on canvas, 25.6cm x 21cm
Estimate: NZ$230,000 (€130,600) to NZ$300,000 (€170,400)
“Golden Passive Element”, 1965, oil on jute, 86.5cm x 86.5cm
*Estimate: NZ$50,000 (€28,400) to NZ$70,000 (€39,700)
Untitled, 1959/60, gouache on paper, 36.7cm x 26cm
Estimate: NZ$35,000 (€20,000) to NZ$50,000 (€28,500)
Embracing the contemporary
Carpenters Workshop Gallery
There’s no slowing down for the Parisian duo behind London’s Carpenters Workshop Gallery. With locations in Chelsea and Mayfair and a Paris research and development centre, Loïc Le Gaillard and Julien Lombrai are now opening their doors across the pond.
Perched on the 19th- and 20th-floor penthouse of New York’s Takashimaya Building, the company’s first US gallery will have Moma as a neighbour. “We were looking for something different to our other spaces, something typically New Yorker,” says Le Gaillard. “The space itself is a real landmark,” adds Lombrai of the Fifth Avenue location complete with soaring 12 metre-high ceilings.
With its feet firmly in the European market, the expansion was a natural move for the gallery, which credits 40 per cent of its turnover to US buyers and has strong ties with US artists such as Wendell Castle and Johanna Grawunder. “We’ve been lucky to discover a lot of talent early on in the designers’ careers,” says Le Gaillard. “It will be interesting to learn more about these emerging designers in the US and South America.”