A June 1 Style article on the new director of the Hirshhorn Museum incorrectly referred to an exhibition of the work of Ana Mendieta as current. The exhibit is now on tour. (Published 6/4/05)
The Hirshhorn Museum, considered one of the more adventurous siblings of the Smithsonian family and an important setting for modern and contemporary art over the past 30 years, will have a new director at the end of the summer.
Current Deputy Director Olga Viso will replace Ned Rifkin on Sept. 1. Rifkin has starred in a near-impossible balancing act since January 2004, when he agreed to become undersecretary of art overseeing all eight of the Smithsonian's art organizations without relinquishing his workload as director of the Hirshhorn.
"When you're an overachiever," says Rifkin, "and your two jobs are competing for the same time and energy, and when you realize that doing something in one job means that you're not doing something in another job, then change is in order. It's just one of those things about human limitations."
Rifkin became director in 2002. Under his watch, the Hirshhorn exhibited the works of sculptor and performance artist Ana Mendieta (currently on display), painter Gerhard Richter and installation artist Ernesto Neto, among others.
"[My job] was actually two fulltime jobs that require full devotion and focus from a leader," says Rifkin of his exhausting 18 months. "The good news to it all was that Olga proved in the intervening months to be extraordinary."
Viso, 38, a Florida native whose parents emigrated from Cuba, joined the museum's curatorial department 10 years ago as an expert on contemporary Latin American art. She became curator of contemporary art five years later, and stepped up to the role of deputy director of the Hirshhorn in 2003. She previously worked for the High Museum of Art in Atlanta and Norton Museum of Art in West Palm Beach, Fla., and holds a master's degree from Emory University.
Partly because of its focus on contemporary art, the Hirshhorn has enjoyed a reputation as the place to see the Smithsonian's most challenging offerings -- for example, the 1996 exhibit of Rudolf Schwarzkogler's "Actionist" art, which featured photographs of self-mutilation. That daring reputation, says Viso, will continue under her tenure, as will a dedication to underrepresented artists. She says she's particularly proud of the current exhibition on Mendieta, whose strange death (she fell out of the window of her New York apartment in 1985) may have clouded her significant contributions.
"We really see a responsibility to report what is happening in the art world, and artists invite us to see the world differently," she say. "We are committed to presenting the creative expressions of those artists."
Fundraising will also continue to occupy a significant portion of the director's time.
"Over the years financial support from the public has remained the same, while the cost of business has gone up," says Viso. "We really would like to make our programs more visible and do a better job at communicating our programs and all our offering to the public. That's really important to us."