Former ICA Director Milena Kalinovska
Discusses the ICA and New Challenges for the National Gallery in Prague
By: Charles Giuliano - Sep 19, 2015
Milena Kalinovska until recently was Director of Public Programs at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C. She is about to take on a new position as director of modern and contemporary art for the National Gallery in Prague. She was previously Director of The Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston and Adjunct Curator at The New Museum of Contemporary Art, New York. She worked on the Gwangju Biennale 2004 in South Korea, has served on the national advisory committee of Art21 PBS programs, and has received a number of awards including a nomination for the Turner Prize.
After the Russian Revolution her grandparents moved to Prague where she was born in 1948. Russian was spoken at home. Joining an arts group in high school she curated her first exhibition. Initially she studied law at Charles University. She first visited London as an au pair but during a later trip asked for and was granted asylum.
In 1975, she graduated from the University of Essex with a degree in comparative literature and began teaching Russian literature. She received her master’s degree in Slavonic studies from the University of British Columbia and decided to pursue a career in the arts. Back in London, she found a job at Riverside Studios, a gallery and studio for experimental art.
As director of the ICA from 1991-1996 she brought to the program the perspective of an astute global curator with an interest in well researched, thematic exhibitions and a passion for the work of women artist. The position also entailed dealing with a board forcing on her a mandate for populist projects reaching a broader audience. That strategy largely backfired with shows like “Elvis and Marilyn” that she now admits were a mistake.
Like David Ross, who preceded her, Kalinovska was unable to expand the building on Boylston Street which was eventually purchased from the City of Boston. Under pressure from the trustee, Barbara Lee, she was forced out and replaced by Jill Medvedow, who succeeded in relocating the ICA to an award winning building on the Boston Waterfront.
While packing for the move to Prague she took time to discuss old and new challenges. Yet again, I was impressed by her quick mind and sharp focus on a range of complex issues. She is excited about the depth of the modern collections in Prague and a mandate to raise its level to one of the great institutions of Eastern Europe.
Charles Giuliano With the changes about to occur in your career what are you doing?
Milena Kalinovska I am incredibly busy with all kinds of issues that have to do with the National Gallery in Prague. I have been named director of modern and contemporary art collections. The new director, Jiri Fajt, has two PhDs with a expertise in medieval art. He did an outstanding exhibition around the topic of Charles IV in 2005 and it traveled to the Met in New York. It has great reviews and it was then that I met him.
I realized that he was the person who could turn around an incredible 220-year-old institution. (Founded February 5, 1796) For the past year he’s assembling around himself an international team of Czech experts. We are refocusing on how to reposition the National Gallery so that it becomes a major player, certainly in Central Europe and beyond.
(Jirí Fajt has commented “The NG started its transformation into a more open and friendly institution, more attractive in its program and comparable in importance with other prestigious museums of art in Europe. This cannot be done without a strong, concept-conscious team of collaborators, who will not only share the NG’s vision, but will be able to collaborate to make it work. Personally, I feel and welcome a strengthening of support for the transformation steps from the professional public.”)
CG Why at this point in your life have you decided to leave the U.S. and return to your native country?
MK I am not leaving the United States. I actually have five passports: Czech, British and U.S. which I cherish most. I have been living in the States for the past 29 years. This is my home and I’m leaving everything here as it is. I have a place where my husband and disabled daughter are living in Bethesda, just outside of Washington D.C. I have a son who is working in New York. I will be working in my birth country for three years. They wanted an indefinite contract, but quite frankly Charles, I am 67 and it would be absurd for a 67-year-old person to sign an indefinite contract. It’s a contract for three years that could be renewed by the director, or by me, on an annual basis after the three years.
CG That’s a lot of frequent flyer miles.
MK No. I am renting a place in Prague. I am currently furnishing the place so I will be very much there. I will be coming here occasionally (U.S.) in connection with my work and my family spends long summers in Southern Bohemia which is two hours south of Prague. We have a farm house and my husband, who is now retired, and my daughter usually go there for three to four months. So we will have plenty of opportunity then to see each other very frequently. After the Velvet Revolution my husband (Czech) and his mother managed to acquire the farm house which they have been renovating ever since. So I have been going back to the Czech Republic for 15 or 16 years.
I also had the chance to see artists and curators and follow the cultural scene as well as what is going on in politics.
CG Can you describe for me the current cultural scene?
MK It’s very lively. You have to remember that during the 1960s the artists were not allowed to exhibit officially. They kept on by showing in houses and salons. Their works were known to museums abroad. Jiri Kolar eventually lived in France. His work was shown at and collected by the Pompidou Center. He was also collected by the Guggenheim and MoMA.
(Regarding contemporary Czech work she told a journalist “I was intrigued by a number of Czech art works and in fact the entire time I was living abroad they inspired me in several ways. I tried to look at the works as they were, but I couldn’t help seeing them in an international context. I’ve always looked for something purely individual in them, something that comes from this environment, something that is characteristic and can work abroad at the same time. When this kind of work appears in a different environment, you may understand it, but it is at the same time completely different from what you’ve seen before.
”I’ve recently been interested in women artists that I’ve never worked with, like Veronika Bromová or Katerina Vincourová. I felt their works could stand up to the test of international standards. Going back deeper into history, I first came (returned) to Prague in 1990 and somebody told me to go and look at an exhibition at U Hybern? of students from the Fine Arts Academy. It was a big exhibition. I went there with one thing in mind: to present somebody in Boston. Milena Dopitová’s work there really surprised me. I remember it to this day. She showed a very simply produced black-and-white photograph of twins on cheap paper. In front of it, she placed an embroidered table with two chairs and nearby something like a bedside table.
”I was really stunned. Photographs by Struth and other artists concerned with identity were being shown at that time. But they were excessive perfectionists. What I saw here was something with a special atmosphere — something like Czech modernism, but at the same time it was provocative, emotionally feminine. And nobody was doing embroidery at that time.
”I instantly decided that I wanted to meet this artist and show this particular work. It was a bit risky because I had yet to see anything else by her. I was told that Milena Dopitová was still at the academy and that she wasn’t ready for an exhibition. I went back to the US and, without seeing any of her other works, I invited her for residency. Colleagues at the ICA in Boston naturally questioned me but I insisted that we had found somebody new who hadn’t been presented yet, that we were responsible for helping artists, giving them a chance, and that in her I saw great potential. Milena has since become very popular. Many critics and theorists were very interested in her. She took part in an exhibition of women working in a Boston context, and in a discussion about the position of women in artistic and human contexts. She also showed at the Ronald Feldman Gallery in New York.
”I saw a very interesting installation at the Golden Ring House (City Gallery Prague). Petr Pastrák projected slides and played music from the 1960s. The installation addressed family, and intimate space. It was simply rendered and to me it seemed accessible. So he could be another one. I’m not going to talk about painters. I met with Jirí David and Jirí Kovanda, who were interesting in the context of painting in the 1980s. But they were not exactly what I was searching for. From the older generation, I showed Magdalena Jetelová and I’d like to work with her on her retrospective. I think also there might be some interesting architecture here. I’ve had the opportunity to meet Josef Pleskot. From the catalogues and from cooperating with him I feel that I’d like to have a look at some of the architecture that’s happening.”)
CG When David Ross was director of the Whitney Museum I recall that there was a plan to send one of the Biennials to Prague.
MK Yes. But no it never happened which is a pity because David was always ahead of his time. He was quite visionary on many levels not only for what he did but in terms of the kinds of Biennials he managed to do at the Whitney but also his thinking.
You have to keep in mind that after the Velvet Revolution there needed to be time to come to grips with what democracy really means. And also what it means culturally.
Of course I have been following the National Gallery for all those years. Now for the first time, with Jiri Fajt, we have a director who is internationally connected. He knows what it means for the National Gallery to become a player.
There were brief moments after the Velvet Revolution with directors like Jiri Sevcik who was interested in connecting with David Ross. The National Gallery was a place that was not internationally involved. Many of the directors were not able to stay for a long time. Just like in France the director of the National Gallery is named by the Minister of Culture. The question is to what extent the Minister of Culture is knowledgeable about who is important and to what extent it is just a local political play.
The Czech Republic has a population of ten million. In terms of its size and population it is about like Rhode Island. Think about that. We are speaking about politics that are extremely local. Then you have these extraordinary people like Václav Havel who brought it to a completely different level starting with the first president in 1918. Then you have cultural players like Milos Forman, and the 20th century composer Dvorák who came to the United States.
It’s a very small country which used to be internationally connected because of its very international population consisting of Czechs, Germans, Jews, Slavs which all changed after WWII then further changed for the worse during communist times.
There was a Polish uprising twenty years ago with Solidarity winning. After that it was unstoppable in terms of what happened in other Eastern European countries. All of these changes, particularly in the Czech Republic, took place without much bloodshed. That’s why it’s called the Velvet Revolution. It was headed by Havel and guided by Charter 77.
(Charter 77 was an informal civic initiative in communist Czechoslovakia from 1976 to 1992, named after the document Charter 77 from January, 1977. Founding members and architects were Jirí Nrmec, Václav Benda, Ladislav Hejdánek, Václav Havel, Jan Patorka, Zdenrk Mlynár, Jirí Hájek, Martin Palouš, and Pavel Kohout. Spreading the text of the document was considered a political crime by the communist regime. After the 1989 Velvet Revolution, many of its members played important roles in Czech and Slovak politics.)
It was a document written in 1977 accusing the government of discrimination and oppression. Havel was voted president and the country lived through a time of amazing optimism. Later Czechoslovakia was again split without any bloodshed into the Czech Republic and Slovakia. These countries exist on friendly terms. Slovakia consists of five million and Czech Republic has ten million.
CG I was in Vienna, Prague, and Berlin in the summer of 1989 after the Berlin Wall came down.
MK That was an amazing time and I wasn’t there.
CG Several years ago Astrid and I returned to Prague and it was totally different. By then it was mobbed with tourists which was not the case during my first visit.
That first time I had a room in a woman’s apartment in a residential neighborhood. There was a local jazz club where I heard a performance that was being broadcast on the radio. The players were amazing having gotten their jazz from Radio Free Europe and some recordings.
MK The artists learned from magazines but there was a lot of exchange from neighboring countries. There is a group from the 1960s who are being rediscovered. Many museums and private collections have their work. It is now being discovered in the U.S. There is a show at MoMA of Central European and Latin American artists. I did a show of those two groups plus Europeans back in 2000.
After I left the ICA I was given a grant which is kind of like an award. I was asked to put together a large international exhibition and anything I wanted to do.
(“Beyond Preconceptions: The Sixties Experiment” (2000) provides a look at parallel art developments in Eastern and Western Europe and in North and South America in the late 1960s and early 1970s. An illustrated catalogue and its five essays show how a small, forward-thinking group of artists translated similar concepts into a variety of approaches based on their specific cultural context. These artists include Joseph Beuys, Marcel Broodthaers, Lygia Clark, Hanne Darboven, Victor Grippo, Eva Hesse, Ilya Kabakov, Jiri Kolar, Bruce Nauman and Helio Oticica. The new models of artistic practice developed by these artists continue to shape what a younger generation of artists is creating today, particularly where institutional critique and concepts of authorship are concerned.)
The phrase “Beyond Preconceptions” was taken from the writing of Eva Hesse. She wanted her work to go beyond what she could imagine. I concentrated on the artists of the 1960s and 1970s, from Europe, Central Europe, North America and South America because I felt these artists had a lot in common in terms of their aesthetics and also in terms of approaching the object. They were all talking about disintegration of the object and yet they all kept to the object. The content of these artists that enriched the work itself was different. Latin American artists and Central European artists were very political because they had oppressive governments. The works of European and American artists were also political because at the time there were revolutions and student uprisings but it wasn’t so overtly strong.
CG We saw the Eve Hesse retrospective in Wiesbaden, Germany. At Tate Modern in London we viewed “Century City” (2001) which focused on ten decades and ten cities. It included Rio de Janiero, 1950-1964 so we saw Lygia Clark and Helio Oticica. That was our first exposure to that conceptual abstraction which was, of course, a part of the later Guggenheim show “Brazil: Body and Soul” (2002).
MK In addition to those artists from Brazil in my show was also Cildo Meireles who I knew personally. The other two artists were deceased.
(She told a Czech publication at “I worked as a coordinator on a traveling exhibition called “Inside in Visible.” (For the Institute of Contemporary Art) It wasn’t my exhibition. (Curated by Catherine de Zegher 1995) It was concerned with women in the 1920s, 1960s and 1990s. It was then that I saw Lygia Clark and Maiolina for the first time and got to know their work. Curators in the US more or less know their names but on a theoretical level rather than from any exhibitions.
”When we were selecting Clark and Oiticica, it was as much a given as making a selection from the few well-known names here. We could have taken people from the periphery but that wouldn’t be responsible in a situation where even the more important ones are not known outside their own context. I even toyed with the idea of putting together an exhibition of unknown artists from Europe, the USA and South America. But I didn’t think it was fair to Eastern Europe and South America because even lesser known artists from the USA had long been discovered within their contexts. So I went back to the original concept, which I thought was conservative. Sol LeWitt and Weiner are no discoveries, but I have to say that I got a fresh look at those classics thanks to Clark and Krasiski. If I had to do this in the US, I would perhaps conceive it differently. I would look for some correlations. But in this particular context, these specific works that I didn’t know addressed me and excited me.”)
It was from Joseph Beuys, to Hannah Darboven to Bruce Nauman then the European Marcel Broodthaers. From Canada Betty Goodwin for example an artist that not many people look at. Piero Manzoni.
CG I knew Betty Goodwin and visited her studio in Montreal through a connection with the Rene Blouin Gallery. She was one of the most important Canadian artists of her generation and deserves to be better known by American curators and critics.
MK You did! She was amazing. I liked her work which was included in this exhibition. I couldn’t get the work I wanted. She had a box with sand and buried inside was a cloth or material that was too fragile.
CG She worked with felt.
MK Instead I worked with “Trampoline” which was inspired by Beuys. So that was the connection.
CG Let’s talk about your time at the ICA. What were your years?
MK 1991 to 1997.
CG You came from Riverside Studios in London where you had been nominated for the Turner Prize.
MK That’s correct but I moved to the United States in 1986. I moved from London and married here (in the U.S. to Jan Vanous, a Czech-born American). That year my daughter was born.
I was offered the chance to work on an exhibition “Art into Life: Russian Constructivism 1914 to 1935” for the Walker Arts Center in Minneapolis and the Henry Art Gallery in Seattle. I worked with Richard Andrews. Then Marcia Tucker offered me the position of senior curator at the New Museum in New York. That was only one year after my daughter was born and I told her that having a disabled child there was no way I could afford to move to New York because she needed all kinds of attention. So Marcia offered for me to be associate curator for one year and do an exhibition while she searched for a senior curator. I was able to do that and as I was finishing Elizabeth Sussman called offering me the position of director of the ICA.
My response to her was that I did not know the American museum field. Also I was pregnant with my second child. (Laughing) But, as it happened I did accept.
CG You followed David Ross and Elizabeth left to join him at the Whitney.
MK Exactly. I still had Matthew Teitelbaum (a Ross appointment now the director of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts). He remained at the ICA for I think about a year. When he left I appointed Christoph Grunenberg who later became director of Tate Liverpool. Now he is director of Bremen Kunsthalle which is a major, major museum in Germany.
CG You spawned some stars. (Also Lia Gangitano who went on to become the director of the now closed venue Thread Waxing Space in Chelsea.)
MK (Laughing) I’m in that sort of business you know Charles. I have to tell you, when I look at the people who have worked with me, and this is something I should not be shy about, basically all of them stay in touch with me. People have acknowledged my generosity or friendship or whatever but you know, and you can attest to it, I really like people. I am very excited about people with talent. I don’t believe it’s me who has to have the talent or shine. I really believe in other people shining. Then the entire museum shines.
CG I remember Matthew when he was an ICA curator and liked him a lot. He was low key and accessible. Obviously he was brilliant but also charming and down to earth.
MK Very sensitive. You know that his father was an artist. So I think that Matthew had a natural feeling for artists and what they do. Which in many ways is key for any very successful director of a museum.
CG I vividly recall a major exhibition he did, with many examples, of global propaganda. There was an interesting contrast in similarity between Nazi and allied war imagery. It was interesting that while Hitler damned the avant-garde as Entartete Kunst the graphic artists in Germany used aspects of collage and other elements of experimental style and composition in their images. We know of the complex relationship between Futurism and Fascism at all levels of Italian art between the wars. I have been trying to research the title of that exhibition.
MK I cannot remember the title myself but I remember it well. It was unbelievably well researched. There was a superb publication. On the basis of that publication he was looked at by Canada (The Art Gallery of Canada in Toronto where he rose to the position of director).
CG I did find that he curated “The Bleeding Heart” which examined the image of the heart in Mexican art from pre-Columbian times to Frida Kahlo. That was another memorable exhibition.
During your tenure, and that of David Ross, the ICA took on ambitious historical projects. Elizabeth curated “Art and Dance” for David as well as “The Situationist International” about Guy Debord and David curated shows of Russian conceptualism.
Under Jill Medvedow, only this fall, the ICA is presenting a major historical show, the much anticipated survey of the seminal Black Mountain College, and its impact on the post war American avant-garde.
MK We did “Inside the Visible” which was a huge undertaking. That was curated by Catherine de Zegher who went on to become director of the Drawing Center in New York and was one of the directors of the Australian Biennale. A year or two ago she did a show at MoMA. She is a thinking person and major curator. She loves doing research and is very good at it.
(The seminal exhibition presented an overview of several decades conflating known (Visible) and unknown (Inside the Visible) women artists. A selection of artists included: Carol Rama (an Italian artist of the Fascist era later given a solo show at the ICA), Yayoi Kusama, Martha Rosler, Ana Mendieta, Carrie Mae Weems, Jana Sterbak, Charlotte Salomon (who perished in the Holocaust and was the focus of an ICA exhibition), Nancy Spero, Claude Cahoun, Agnes Martin, Lygia Clark, Eva Hesse, Francesca Woodman, Mona Hatoum and others. The exhibition had a major impact on the field particularly by advancing neglected artists.)
CG You were doing those projects with limited space, a small budget and staff.
MK I was working with a staff of eleven. Then it grew to maybe 15.
CG Despite the limitations you were doing ambitious shows.
MK David (Ross) set the bar. That was the level that everyone felt had to be met. He had David Joselit, Elizabeth, Matthew, and Gillian Levine, all outstanding curators.
(When Ross took over from Stephen Prokopoff he retained the curators with new mandates. Previously Sussman curated surveys of Alice Stallnecht and Florine Stettheimer. Initally, with no money to work with, Ross launched the series Currents with a focus on New York galleries, a dash of internationalism, and gallery handouts rather than catalogues. It was a low budget but provocative period of treading water while Ross attempted to stabilize and grown the ICA. That success led to his appointment to head the Whitney Museum.)
There had been major, intellectual projects and catalogues (like Joselit’s “Endgame”) which had an impact on critical thinking in the field. All of those curators and Ross went on to major positions because of that.
When I joined the ICA the key problem was that there were no funds. As we progressed we were able to secure funds. I was curious and open to doing exhibitions which were research based. So we had an incredible opportunity with Catherine de Zegher. I believe after Matthew left we had something I called Curators in Residence. The first one was Bruce Ferguson with whom we curated “Analytical Theatre; Performing Objects.”
Catherine (de Zegher) came up with the idea and although it was incredibly expensive she had already done lots of work so we could see what the exhibition could look like. We embarked on it and were able to secure the necessary funds. Some of the people who gave us funds, like a bank, joined the board after I left.
CG In addition to “Inside the Visible” a lot of the exhibitions, like the British sculptor Rachael Whiteread, Marlene Dumas, Carol Rama, Charlotte Solomon, Cornelia Parker, and Annie Liebowitz focused on women.
MK We did “Gothic” in 1997 curated by Christoph Grunenberg. It was incredibly well researched and I think that launched him. Christoph brought with him the Whiteread exhibition. That’s really why I hired him because we had good, substantial discussions. We also did Cildo Meireles the Brazilian conceptual artist which was his first large exhibition in the States. Later they showed him at the New Museum and a video by Branka Bogdanov of the ICA was featured because it was really good. (Bogdanov produced many videos for ICA shows as a part of education programming.)
CG You also had problematic shows. “Elvis and Marilyn” did not live up to expectations. It seems that you were reaching for targeted audiences with that show as well as “Malcolm X” and gays for “Dress Codes.”
MK I’m not making excuses and am just explaining. For any museum there is always a discussion of the mission of the museum and how does that relate to attendance. There was always a desire for a large attendance and thus more profit at the box office.
(Under Ross, despite the accessible location of the ICA, annual attendance was about 25,000. That spiked with the controversial Robert Mapplethorpe exhibition “The Perfect Moment.”)
There was hope for that with “Elvis and Marilyn” but I acknowledge that it was a mistake. It just didn’t make sense for the ICA from any point of view. But we did it.
“Malcolm X” was more interesting. It went with the notion that the ICA should be politically engaged. There was the sense that Boston was both liberal and progressive, as well as, racially divided.
CG That show also failed to reach its targeted audience.
MK That’s possible.
CG Also the concept of a strategy of building a broader audience for the ICA wasn’t working. The people targeted for “Elvis and Marilyn” didn’t return for “Malcolm X” which also passed on “Dress Codes.” You might bring in young people, blacks and gays for specific projects but that didn’t sustain to build a general audience for contemporary art which is always a tough sell. There was also a populist themed show with Bill Wegman and his photographs of weimaraners.
MK With “Malcolm X” we stared a teen program linking with boys and girls clubs of Boston. This has become huge with Jill (Medvedow the current ICA director). We were able to secure some $75,000 a year for this particular program so we were able to pay young people interpreting our exhibitions particularly during weekends. Now teen programs are a huge movement. I’m not saying we started it but the ICA was very much there at the beginning. This is something that Jill took to a completely new level. We had a huge program of that sort starting five years ago at the Hirshorn with the help of the MacArthur Foundation and the Pierson Foundation together for $1.5 million. So that kind of thinking already started then particularly around that exhibition.
CG You also did a gay themed show “Dress Codes.”
MK It was Bruce Ferguson and Lia Gangitano who worked on that. That was a major exhibition dealing with gender which later led to “Boston School” in 1995 which we co curated with Lia. I wanted to show Nan Goldin and Lia introduced me to the other artists. A real discovery of that show was Mark Morrisroe. Without him nothing would have happened in that direction. And Shellburne Thurber who is an outstanding artist. It was the visit to her studio that convinced me that Lia’s idea was correct.
(The exhibition included Nan Goldin, Jack Pierson, David Armstrong, Tabboo! (aka Stephen Tashjian), Shellburne Thurber and Philip Lorca diCorcia. Most of them attended the Museum School where, during a panel discussion, they recalled spending most of their time in the MFA parking lot smoking weed. They all acknowledged the influence of Morrisroe as a catalyst. The ICA show included most of the work of the artist who died young of AIDS.)
"Many artists accepted to take part in it because of their love for Mark," Gangitano said. "It wasn't in our intention, though, to make any overblown statements. In the end Mark was a punk so the exhibition was thought out in that spirit. And it's following this spirit that we invented, in a somewhat irreverent way, the name of what could be a group of painters in the early 1900s."
CG When the de Cordova Museum created a survey and publication "Photography in Boston: 1955 to 1985" (2000) I asked the curator, Rachel Rosenfield Lafo, why Morrisroe was not included. Her answer was “I don’t think he was important.”
As Kalinovska told a reporter of the artist who died at 30, “Friends called him a forger of reality, but even though he enjoyed creating imaginary worlds, his photographs appeared terribly spontaneous. Reality for Morrisroe was pretense to start building a phantasmagoric universe.
“His photographs narrate a broken dream that translate into an unfocused image, slippery but full of romanticism. He often took pictures of himself naked, in the thinness of his body and the paleness of his skin (on his death bed he asked his friend and lover Ramsey McPhillips to take a last picture of him), putting in the middle of his poetry himself and his sexuality.
”The beauty of his models reminds us of the seductive force and the sensual charge of Hollywood stars. His isn't the glamour that recalls fortune and success, but instead the desperate research to survive life's cruelness. His stories are stories of modern invulnerable heroes but at the same they are fatally fragile.
” There are artists who make something from themselves, such as Nan Goldin. Mark Morrisroe did it before her, but paradoxically she got the most attention. Museums now fight for her. But such times always pass. In five, ten years the artists will have to draw on something again. It’s very dangerous and is also a concern for us curators and historians. I’m just saying that one has to take things with humility, including success. You may be successful, catch a wave and ride it out, but at a certain point it collapses because you can’t always be the most topical thing around. It is then necessary to look inward and search again for who you really are — but this isn’t really talked about that much.”
MK Look at right now. Morrisroe is all over the place. He is included in the Guggenheim collection. I felt after seeing his work, this may be slightly an overstatement, but without his way of looking and taking photographs I don’t know if we would get the same, tough, Nan Goldin for example.
CG During the ICA panel for “The Boston School” which I attended they were unanimous in saying that Morrisroe was the inspiration for all of them.
MK There you go. His portraits, particularly his self portraits, are incredibly moving. They are very, very lyrical in the way that they play with light and the position of the figure. Also the way the face looks there is a huge sense of melancholia one would say.
CG Of course at that time, as a critic, I was on the other side. In a sense I might have been one of your favorite enemies.
MK (Laughing) You know Charles I never remember you that way. (Laughing) I like the way that you are challenging. In many ways, unless people are challenged, and can think about themselves, there is no progress. Look at what’s going on in the United States, everything is on the table.
CG I would like to think that we had a lively adversarial relationship and not without humor.
MK I remember seeing you at the Venice Biennale which made me happy because I knew you loved art and made the effort to do see it.
CG There was at best a mixed critical environment other than whoever was at the Boston Phoenix at the time. The Globe never had a substantial critic and nobody was pressing you on the issues. You have hinted at pressures from the board and the mandate to target audiences with attempts at populist shows.
Also on your watch, and that of David Ross who preceded you, the physical space of the ICA was never adequate. The design by Graham Gund put an intrusive staircase in the center of limited exhibition space creating a cramped lobby. The building, in an arrangement with the city initiated by Drew Hyde, was for a 99 year lease. When, during your administration, the building was purchased it came with air rights which would have allowed for a dramatic expansion.
It appears that you had a split board, particularly Barbara Lee, who was eager to move on and support Jill Medvedow. Under Jill the building was sold as a part of the move to its current location on the waterfront. The award winning building is land locked. The exhibition space, particularly with the decision to form a permanent collection, has quickly proved to be inadequate. The ICA recently announced plans to build a bridge and additional gallery space into a building being erected next to it. All over the country in a kind of boom museums are building additions to additions.
MK The ICA had a great location near a T stop and I felt that, if would could take over the whole building and expand through air rights, that would be the right move.
(When Kalinovska departed the Globe reported that “The Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston is searching for a new director. Milena Kalinovska, who had held the job for five years, left in June. Vin Cipolla, president of the institute's board, said there had been differences between the board and Ms. Kalinovska over the direction the institution should take.
''There were two board members who were financially powerful and who had a different opinion about things than I did,'' Ms. Kalinovska said. ''I felt unless I had the entire board behind me that I didn't want to be the director.'')
CG You faced a lot of adversity as director.
MK I came to the ICA as a professional who didn’t have the experience of working in a museum in the United States. What that means is if you work in another place, like the New Museum, in a way you are groomed from the bottom up. What than means is that you are facing all of the questions that you have mentioned. What is the mission? Who are our audiences? How do we get there? Do we address different audiences or do we concentrate on one? I came from a very experimental place (Riverside Studios in London) where the audience comprised of the artists whom we were addressing. If anyone came in, and there were plenty who did, that was great, but if we didn’t do our job for the artists we just failed.
If I had been able to be in New York under Marcia Tucker, or at the Walker Art Center, or even for a time under David Ross in Boston before he left for the Whitney Museum, my experience at the ICA, and ability to deal with the board, might have been very different.