After extended tenures at the Henry Art Gallery (where she created the exhibitions Gene(sis): Contemporary Art Explores Human Genomics and Hershmanlandia: The Art and Films of Lynn Hershman Leeson, among others) and the Frye Art Museum, where she is currently chief curator (and where she's organized shows of the artists Dario Robleto, Implied Violence, and the Slovenian artist collective NSK), Robin Held has been appointed executive director of Reel Grrls, the Seattle nonprofit that gets girls and young women involved in filmmaking.
She'll be at the Frye through February doing an exhibition of work by Stranger Genius winner Susie Lee, the Frye just announced.
Calling her now...
UPDATE: Conversation with Robin Held on the jump.
Caught by phone outside the Frye staff farewell celebration this afternoon, departing chief curator Robin Held—a 2005 Stranger Genius Award winner—sounded excited and confident.
Once again, as it was when she left the contemporary-based Henry Art Gallery for the at-a-crossroads Frye (she started in
early 2005late 2004 at the Frye), Held is making an unexpected decision, but one that makes intuitive sense, too.
I’m really excited about this future and what Reel Grrls and I can do together, and it’s such a perfect fit. When you see the press release tomorrow, you’ll see that story, but I can tell you the story. Okay, so here’s what the release will say tomorrow and this is from my heart, and this is also in the letter I first wrote to Reel Grrls when I saw the announcement of the position. And it’s this: For the last 15 years, I have helped artists realize their biggest dreams, their biggest projects, and so many of those artists are women. I’ve been working with women artists at every stage of their career—young, lifetime achievement award winners—and in many cases, those artists find it difficult to have their voices heard, or their vocabularies exceed the structures we have for hearing and understanding them.
So two things, two things. One: I am absolutely thrilled to work with young women ages 9 to 19 who are just beginning to imagine that they could be artists and that the things they make are art. What’s better? That’s the thrill, really. The other thing is, it’s working to change things to, let’s just say, a necessary normal—where so many women thrive as artists and filmmakers and playwrights, that it’s so normal for women to do all those creative things that we stop using that qualifier: woman artist, woman filmmaker, woman playwright. Then we win. That’s what really, really attracts me to Reel Grrls.
Frye director Jo-Anne Birnie Danzker knew about Held's application to Reel Grrls and acted as a reference—so she's not surprised, but she feels "great and sad at the same time" today, she said:
The time I’ve seen Robin happiest is when she was transforming what we were doing away from the conventional exhibition and towards supporting what artists are doing—commissioning artist projects, what we were doing with Implied Violence and DAE. She just really shines in those environments. So this is a logical move. It’s supporting women, it’s supporting emerging artists, it’s supporting people who work on a cross-platform basis, and it’s Seattle’s continued gain, so I feel very happy about that—that she didn’t leave the city in search of something else at some time. And she’s said there’s definitely collaboration on the horizon with Reel Grrls and the Frye.
Birnie Danzker said the Frye hasn't decided yet whether it will fill the chief curator position that Held is vacating. That position is "an echo of the classic 19th-century model of the museum," Birnie Danzker said. "And one of the things I'm really proud of is that we're breaking down a lot of those categories—we've had artists working with us, we've been supporting new works being created, and so it's a much more horizontal relationship with artists and the public.
"The classic role of the curator as the person who will tour you through a show and help you know what to think is really breaking down, and rightly so. So I don't know if [having a chief curator] is the right way to proceed. I doubt it, frankly. I think we will continue the commitment to the cross-platform approach that is much more horizontal and much more open to experimentation. I wouldn't want to roll that back at all."
My take is that I don't care what you call it, but losing a full-time position for a person with as much pull, creativity, and institutional support as Held would be a tragedy. Held, after all, is the one who pioneered these changes at the Frye—as the curator.