The El Paso Museum of Art has finally selected a new Director. Hesse McGraw comes from the San Francisco Institute of Art where he was Vice President for Exhibitions and Public Programs.He was in charge of its Walter and McBean galleries which focus on contemporary art, public lectures and community involvement. Prior to that he was chief curator at the Bemis arts center in Omaha where he seems to have done some remarkable things in terms of promoting local arts and extremely creative use of non-traditional spaces.
The more I read about him the more excited and interested I am to see what he is going to be able to do here. He seems to be someone passionate about both contemporary art and community outreach, both of which we desperately need here. He seems to want to push boundaries in terms of exhibitions and to interact with the community at large as well as help promote local art and artists.
It should prove an interesting appointment. Although the museum does have works by late 20th century artists, unquestionably its most important holdings are the Kress collection, roughly 15th-18th century European works; Spanish Colonial works, and Tom Lea. So there is certainly a need for a closer look at contemporary work. The question is whether there is an appetite among the broader community for it. This is where a strong educational program and active community involvement comes in. This is a place where some people seem easily offended by such things as a sculpture of melted guns turned into birds and where a work at a past biennial couldn’t be shown because it was considered too graphic, though the piece showed in Juarez with little comment. Some of the exhibitions McGraw staged in his first years at SFAI would probably raise both eyebrows and blood pressure here which is also something we could definitely use.
The El Paso Museum of Art is unusual in that it is partly public owned and partly private so the director needs a deft hand and perhaps special tap shoes to do the multi-stakeholder shuffle. From everything I’ve read McGraw seems like he could make a dynamic contribution and bring some fresh new blood to the Museum. His appointment starts Oct 10, and I, for one, am really very excited to watch the developments.-david sokolec