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University of Chicago’s Hamza Walker talks art

H Walker


Neatly tucked away on the fourth floor of Cobb Hall on the University of Chicago’s well-manicured campus is the Renaissance Society. Founded in 1915, the Renaissance Society is a 3,200 square foot, non-collecting, contemporary art venue whose mission is to promote developments in contemporary art through exhibitions and related events.  Hamza Walker is its director of education and associate curator. For almost two decades the very engaging, trained art historian continues to approach his work with vigor and enthusiasm.   I took a few moments of his time to talk about his work and the “art” of curating.

Talk a little about your role here as director of education and associate curator for the Renaissance Society.
I curate a couple of exhibitions per year.  The director is Solverg Oustebo, so I work with her in putting together the annual slate roster of exhibitions of artists, then I work with the artists to realize the exhibition.  It could be a new production; it could be a survey, whatever form it takes.

You’ve had quite a professional artistic climb. What has the journey been like?
The field [curating] has changed a lot.  I’m 46, so I loathe making that kind of assessment, but I realize that there were no professional paths to becoming a curator … Studies programs around the world are starting them up [now, but then] it was kind of an endeavor where it was an open field — an open path where you kind of made your own path.  So in terms of any kind of professional climb, it didn’t, from my vantage point, at all look like that.  Just like a delight wandering, which has had some beautiful vistas and surprises …  It never looked like any kind of ascent because I never felt as though I was coming from anywhere or necessarily going to somewhere, just a series of events — largely fortunate.

What types of work do you look for when you search for an exhibit?
Nothing.  No one should claim to be bias-free or any of those kinds of things, but in terms of developing some kind of professional objectivity where I would like to think that I am judicious or categorically oppose to one thing or another, where artists lead people tend to follow.  Now with that said, there is no zeitgeist where artists go –or maybe there is.  Maybe at times there are and at other times there isn’t. But I would say in either case, it’s a “heterogamous” field.

The Renaissance Society, 5811 S Ellis Ave.
(between 58th St & 59th St)
Chicago, IL 60637
(773) 702-8670