It’s Time for Museums to ‘Decolonize’ Says Former Walker Art Center Director

Olga Viso, who stepped down from the Walker Art Center last year, weighs into the tense debate sweeping the art world

Olga Viso. Courtesy: Walker Art Center

Olga Viso. Courtesy: Walker Art Center

Olga Viso. Courtesy: Walker Art Center

In an op-ed for the New York Times, former director of Minneapolis’s Walker Art Center Olga Viso argues that it is time for museums in the US to ‘decolonize’. Headlined ‘Decolonizing the Art Museum: The Next Wave’, Viso’s article asks how museums can reconsider their mission statements as more diverse audiences call for a voice and accountability.

Viso argues: ‘There are now two incompatible art worlds: one committed to inclusion, artistic freedom and change, the other driven by money and entitlements. When agendas collide, there are casualties.’ And she doesn’t think the commercial art market holds the key, saying, ‘the surging commercial art market has become another colonizing force’.

Viso discusses her experiences with a controversial wood-and-steel artwork by LA-based sculptor Sam Durant, titled Scaffold (2012), which went on view at the Walker last year. Drawing on the history of gallows used in US state executions, including the 1862 hanging of 38 Dakota warriors during the Dakota War, the work earned the ire of the local American Indian community and was later dismantled. ‘I apologize for any pain and disappointment that the sculpture might elicit’, Viso wrote at the time. Now looking back on the episode, Viso writes that it was a humbling experience ‘for a person whose career has been devoted to providing a platform for underrepresented histories.’

Viso’s call for museums to ‘stop seeing activists as antagonists’, warning that they risk becoming ‘culturally irrelevant artifacts’, follows protests at the Brooklyn Museum over the weekend in which activists led chants for ‘repatriation’ and ‘reparations’. Organized by the group Decolonize This Place, the protests followed on from the museum’s recent decision to hire a white woman as its new curator of African art, a decision which Deolonize This Place described as ‘tone deaf’. Writing in frieze, professor of African and African Diaspora Art at Princeton University, Chika Okeke-Agulu, argues that the outrage over the appointment has been misplaced, and fails to understand the nature of expertise.

Viso stepped down from the Walker at the end of 2017. In a recent interview for frieze, Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev, director of Castello di Rivoli, commented on Viso’s departure in passing, within the context of women’s experiences of working in the arts: ‘A disturbing fact is that in the past few months, most of the people being sacked or asked to resign from museums are women – Olga Viso from the Walker, Laura Raicovich at Queens, Beatrix Ruf from the Stedelijk, Maria Inés Rodríguez at CAPC Bordeaux and Helen Molesworth at LA MOCA […] It’s important to remember that there are a lot of men on museum boards.’

Most Read

The punk artists’s invasion of the pitch during the Croatia vs. France match reminded us what Russia’s new ‘normality’...
In further news: Brexit voters avoid arts; New York libraries’s culture pass unlocks museums; Grayson Perry-backed...
If artificial intelligence were ever to achieve sentience, could it feasibly produce art? (And would it be good?)
The punk activist-artists have been charged with disruption after they charged the field during the France vs Croatia...
27 educators are taking the London gallery to an employment tribunal, demanding that they be recognized as employees
In further news: Glasgow School of Art to be rebuilt; Philadelphia Museum of Art gets a Frank Gehry-designed restaurant
Highlights from Condo New York 2018 and Commonwealth and Council at 47 Canal: the summer shows to see
Knussen’s music laid out each component as ‘precarious, vulnerable, exposed’ – and his conducting similarly worked from...
Nods to the game in World Cup celebrations show how dance has gone viral – but unwittingly instrumentalized for...
‘You can’t reason with him but you can ridicule him’ – lightweight as it is, Trump Baby is a win for art as a...
Anderson and partner Juman Malouf are sorting through the treasures of the celebrated Kunsthistorisches Museum for...
From Capote to Basquiat, the pop artist’s glittering ‘visual diary’ of the last years of his life is seen for the first...
‘When I opened Monika Sprüth Galerie, only very few German gallerists represented women artists’
Can a ragtag cluster of artists, curators and critics really push back against our ‘bare’ art world?
In further news: German government buys Giambologna at the eleventh hour; LACMA’s new expansion delayed
Gucci and Frieze present film number two in the Second Summer of Love series, focusing on the history of acid house
Judges described the gallery’s GBP£20 million redevelopment by Jamie Fobert Architects as ‘deeply intelligent’ and a ‘...
Is the lack of social mobility in the arts due to a self-congratulatory conviction that the sector represents the...
The controversial intellectual suggests art would be better done at home – she should be careful what she wishes for
Previously unheard music on Both Directions At Once includes blues as imposing as the saxophonist would ever record
In further news: Macron reconsiders artist residencies; British Council accused of censorship; V&A to host largest...
In our devotion to computation and its predictive capabilities are we rushing blindly towards our own demise?
Arts subjects are increasingly marginalized in the UK curriculum – but the controversial intellectual suggests art is...
An exhibition of performances at Foksal Gallery Foundation, Warsaw, unfolds the rituals of sexual encounters
An art historian explains what the Carters’s takeover of the Paris museum says about art, race and power
Artist Andrea Fraser’s 2016 in Museums, Money and Politics lifts the lid on US museum board members and...
The Ruhrtriennale arts festival disinvited the Scottish hip-hop trio for their pro-Palestinian politics, then u-turned
The Baltimore’s director on why correcting the art historical canon is not only right but urgent for museums to remain...
Serpentine swimmers complain about Christo’s floating pyramid; and Hermitage’s psychic cat is a World Cup oracle: the...
The largest mural in Europe by the artist has been hidden for 30 years in an old storage depot – until now
Alumni Martin Boyce, Karla Black, Duncan Campbell and Ciara Phillips on the past and future of Charles Rennie...
In further news: po-mo architecture in the UK gets heritage status; Kassel to buy Olu Oguibe’s monument to refugees
The frieze columnist's first novel is an homage to, and embodiment of, the late, great Kathy Acker
60 years after the celebrated Brutalist architect fell foul of local authorities, a Berlin Unité d’Habitation apartment...
The British artist and Turner Prize winner is taking on the gun advocacy group at a time of renewed debate around arms...
The central thrust of the exhibition positions Sicily as the fulcrum of geopolitical conflicts over migration, trade,...
The Carters’s museum takeover powers through art history’s greatest hits – with a serious message about how the canon...
The 20-metre-high Mastaba finally realizes the artist and his late wife Jeanne-Claude’s design
‘What is being exhibited at Manifesta, above all, is Palermo itself’
With the 12th edition of the itinerant European biennial opening in Palermo, what do local artists, curators and...
In the age of Brexit, why Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s pledge to return the ‘stolen’ Parthenon marbles has never been...
The curators seem set to ask, ‘how civilized is the world’s current state of affairs?’
US true crime series Unsolved takes two formative pop cultural events to explore their concealed human stories and...

On View

Latest Magazines

frieze magazine

April 2018

frieze magazine

May 2018

frieze magazine

June - August 2018