Rosario Güiraldes’s Plans for the Walker Art Center

The recently appointed curator of the Midwestern US institution shares how her interdisciplinary background has prepared her for her new position

BY Marko Gluhaich AND Rosario Güiraldes in Interviews | 09 JUN 23

Marko Gluhaich Congratulations on being named Curator of Visual Arts at the Walker Art Center. Could you share how the Walker has been important to your development as a curator?

Rosario Güiraldes I went to architecture school at the public university in Buenos Aires. I started there a few years after the Herzog & de Meuron expansion at the Walker; I studied that building programmatically and as an architectural landmark. This was before life dragged me to contemporary art.

The architectural programme was traditional, and I quickly realized that that wasn’t my path. I started to create my own education, auditing classes in art history and workshops on different aspects of contemporary art production.

I also come from the editorial world. With a good friend, I ran a magazine called Compost that was deliberately non-criticism. The editorial approach was conceived artistically, bringing together literature, writing and visual cultures. More than anything, the magazine was a tool to start meeting people on the internet and make work together.

Rosario Güiraldes. Photograph: Adrianna Glaviano

At some point, I joined three others to creating a hybrid art gallery not-for-profit. We weren’t concerned with having to sell, and anyway, I don’t think that any of us were good at it. It was more to create a programme. This was a pivotal moment where several galleries led by younger people were starting to emerge. Belleza y Felicidad, for example, was a highly influential artist-run space, publishing hub and art supply store that Fernanda Laguna co-founded with poet Cecilia Pavón in 1999. They were predecessors for a whole generation of semi-professionalized, younger galleries.

never deliberately decided that I want to be a curator – I came to realize that that was what I was doing. When I moved to CCS [Center for Curatorial Studies at Bard College], there was a sense of giving an academic context to what I was doing, but it came in reverse. It’s perfect that I’m working at an institution examining porosity across disciplines.

MG How do you hope to build on the legacy of the Walker?

RG I want to acknowledge and celebrate the Walker’s forward-thinking, innovative, boundary-pushing, incredible legacy.

That said, in the past, I’ve been reluctant about over-defining a focus. Much of my work at The Drawing Center focused on what is referred to as the Global South. Xin Wang wrote this incredible essay when MoMA [Museum of Modern Art, New York] mounted the ‘Before and After Tiananmen’ gallery. She made a great point of noting this pivotal cultural moment that we’re in, where there’s this sense that it’s important to acknowledge different histories and perspectives that haven’t been part of the modern canon. It’s not like the work ends there: it’s also a matter of how we do art history, how we frame and contextualize these histories without overlooking what she calls, via Donna Haraway, ‘situated knowledges’.

This is something that is very much present in the work that I do, and in the practices that I’m drawn to. It’s not just about diversifying and expanding the canon, it’s also a question of how we are doing it, how we have been writing canons, and what kind of care, rigour and generosity we bring to the work of artists. 

‘Ebecho Muslimova: Scenes in the Sublevel’, 2021, installation view, The Drawing Center, New York. Photograph: Daniel Terna

MG You worked on the Open Sessions at The Drawing Center, which exemplifies how institutions can support artist practices. What do you think the role of an institution is in supporting practice? Are there initiatives you hope to bring to the Walker in this regard?

RG I’ve worked with a younger generation of artists in New York that maybe at the time didn’t have significant institutional support or exposure. I plan to bring some of those experiences into the local art community in Minneapolis. This is super important for the Walker as a museum that shows both local artists and artists from the US and the world. It’s a site where artists contextualize, and artistic practices are contextualized. And it’s where they become public, where they meet audiences. It’s important for me to create a space, not necessarily to over-determine how a practice is made legible, but rather to make a site where the artwork is contextualized and shared with a broader audience.

The Drawing Center was created as an artist-centred institution, meaning that it showed the work of living artists, who were often also living in surrounding neighbourhoods. If you were a living artist working and showing in New York at the time, you could submit your portfolio to The Drawing Center, to the Artist Space, to White Columns, to SculptureCenter, and there were dedicated staff that would review these portfolios pretty regularly. And so there was a promise that an exhibition could happen.

When Lisa Sigal – who was my co-curator of Open Sessions – was hired at The Drawing Center, she proposed to meet the needs of the time and – being the community-driven person and educator that she is – to create Open Sessions.

At the time, Drawing Center embraced this idea of drawing in the expanded field. This programme was open to anyone who made drawings, regardless of whether or not they called themselves an artist. The Drawing Center doesn’t have studio space. So, the first two years of this programme were centred around thematic, small exhibitions that were self-organized by the participating artists themselves, and monthly convenings that were called working dinners.

When I was hired at The Drawing Center, I had a double title: assistant curator and curator of Open Sessions. I proposed to Lisa that even though this programme was so open and loose, 99% of applicants were artists, so we should just assume it’s a programme for artists.

Being a curator, I asked myself: what do I have to offer? Connections to other curators. And what do artists need in New York? They need resources to make their art, like space and money, as well as opportunities to show and discuss their work with other curators. So, I created this guest curator programme. Marcela Guerrero had just arrived at the Whitney, Sohrab [Mohebbi] had just started at the SculptureCenter and Ruba [Katrib] had just started at [MoMA] PS1. Legacy Russell was at the Studio Museum, and Jenny Jaskey was at The Artist’s Institute. I invited everyone to meet with the artists, which was a great initiative for the programme.

‘Drawing in the Continuous Present’, 2022 installation view, The Drawing Center, New York. Photograph: Daniel Terna

MG What have you learned from working at a medium-specific institution?

RG It’s been a super productive exercise to look at contemporary art through the lens of drawing, because over all these years, I’ve had to ask myself: What is drawing? What can it be? For whom is it? These questions have guided the way that I engaged with artists.

I’ve also had to understand and work within the institution’s mission, and what you constantly do as a curator – and as someone who’s a part of an institution – is negotiate and contextualize the institution’s own questions. It’s been a productive exercise, coming to understand how to work within that.

What does it mean to work in an institution, responding to and reframing those questions with each project you do? Ultimately, every show that you do, you’re engaging with the heart of an institutional mission. It was helpful to do it with a single medium, because it just made those choices so much more apparent, where you’re constantly engaging with the question of medium specificity. 

I’ve learned to love drawing. This other dimension of the medium is how it exists in the world, way beyond an art historical or contemporary art context. Drawing is this universal vocabulary. It’s beautiful to be able to work with a medium that has global currency. Anyone can understand and read and relate to drawing because we’ve all done it. It gives you a place in the world beyond the contemporary art world.

Xiyadie: Queer Cut Utopias, 2023, installation view, The Drawing Center, New York. Photograph: Daniel Terna

MG The exhibitions that you’ve done at The Drawing Center attest to all of that.

RG Thank you. I tried – especially with Xiyadie. There’s this sense of his being an urgent viewpoint, an urgent practice; he’s an artist who creates work within a condition where not only can he not really show the work, but he cannot fully live in line with his sexual identity.

The wonderful ‘aha’ moment that I had when I was first introduced to the work was realizing that it was a wonderful way to provoke and challenge this medium-specific question around drawing. In a way the show didn’t have to give up the determining considerations for drawing, which in Xiyadie’s case are the paper support, the emphasis of line over other kinds of marks, and then paper cutting. It’s the same as in drawing lines because they’re as precise. And then there’s the singularity of the work. It was this way to provoke that mission-driven or medium-driven lens, introducing something that it sits in a liminal space, but still can be read as drawing.

MG It’s an amazing show.

RG I’m glad you liked it.

‘Open Sessions 2018–2020: What’s Love Got to Do with It?’, 2019, installation view, The Drawing Center, New York. Photograph: Martin Parsekian

MG What excites you about being in the Midwest?

RG The Walker has always stood out for its innovation. Being in the Midwest is so critical for what the institution does. Historically, artists haven’t felt the pressure of success that you might expect if you present a project in a major museum in a global capital. The Walker holds space for innovation and to support boundary pushing. It’s very exciting to be able to be in that place and to provide that for an artist.

At the Walker, there’s something about the scale and the amount of space. The art does its thing when it encounters space, and also a public that is not static. One of the things that I’m excited about is having opportunities to hold space for magic to happen.

Main Image: ‘Fernanda Laguna: The Path of the Heart’, 2022, The Drawing Center, New York. Photograph: Daniel Terna

Marko Gluhaich is associate editor of frieze. He lives in New York, USA.

Rosario Güiraldes is Curator of Visual Arts at the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, US.