Q&A: Jessica Hong, the new Global Contemporary art curator
This Saturday, the Hood museum will finally reopen after being closed for extensive renovations, but the modern architectural design isn’t the only thing that’s new. As part of the museum’s transition, the Hood has created the new position of Global Contemporary Art Curator to promote bringing thought-provoking works to campus. Newcomer Jessica Hong discusses her role at the Hood and how she hopes to make an impact on campus.
How did you end up pursuing a career as an arts curator?
JH: Spring semester my sophomore year at Barnard College, I was debating between a language class and an art history class to fulfill a requirement. I ended up taking the art history class, and it totally changed my life moving forward. What I really was struck by was that the arts are essentially a new way of looking at the world. I was drawn to how the arts are integrated into our broader social, cultural and political spheres. It is not relegated to a separate realm only for a certain kind of constituency. It has this power to bring people together and to have these really difficult discussions. I really saw the arts as this great vehicle to have those really difficult dialogues and engagement. My first experience with museums was when I interned for MoMA PS1, and I thought the museum space really brought in so many different publics. The programming aspect was very exciting, especially the discussions we were having interdepartmentally and with visitors. I thought that it was a great space to have these engagements. I decided to be an arts curator because I’d have a critical part in producing the spaces for those kinds of dialogues through exhibitions and bringing in artists and promoting artists to engage with the publics that were part of the museum. As much as I love museums, they have a complicated history. The history of the modern museum has strong ties to colonialism, and especially in the last few years, there has been a lot of critical dialogue around institutional spaces. I think it is really important to have those discussions, and I think spaces like the Hood, which has such a long standing and a really robust encyclopedic collection, is really the perfect place to have those discussions.
What kinds of dialogues are you hoping students will engage with at the Hood?
JH: I think that what is important across the board is making sure that both communities that have once been marginalized and discourses that have once been marginalized are now being brought to the fore — not necessarily in addition to a kind of canon, but rather seen as equally important. For me, whenever I look at exhibitions or collections or programming, I am always asking myself: what is not being shown? What is not being discussed? I think it’s really important for me to understand the community here. I want to get a sense of the different groups and conversations that are already happening on campus and potentially expand on what is already being discussed or bring in things that aren’t being tended to. Right now, I am seeing my first few weeks or even months here as an exploratory process, because I want to make sure that I do get to know the community here and also understand the Hood museum and its surrounding community.
How do you plan on reaching out and engaging with the community?
JH: It is really just a matter of going out and talking to as many people as I can. I think that curators are no longer in these ivory towers. In my role as a curator, one of my big responsibilities is to engage with the community around me. I am not a singular entity. I am part of a larger community and am always collaborating with other people and departments through my work. My goal is to try and talk to as many people as possible and luckily, it’s a small enough community that I feel like that task is a little more feasible compared to the larger cities I’ve worked in before.
From your first impressions, what is unique about the Dartmouth community? Why did you decide to come work at the Hood?
JH: There were many reasons. First of all, this is a very exciting time to be here. I joke that my career trajectory has always been one of transition, because all of the spaces I’ve worked at have been in sort of transition. For example, when I was at PS1, it was at a time where they were in-between art directors and had not officially been incorporated into the Museum of Modern Art. I was at the Whitney Museum of American Art when they were about to move to their downtown space. And then I moved to a sculpture center in Long Island City that was undergoing a big capital campaign to expand their space as well. After grad school, I ended up going to the Harvard Art Museums right before they reopened after a six-year hiatus for renovations. After that, I went to the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston where there was an entirely new curatorial team. So, I think I’m just drawn to spaces that are undergoing transitions and change because that is the most exciting time to be there. You can really help build it almost from the ground up. Granted, the Hood has such a great established and long history, but I think this juncture of expansion, renovation and openness is something that really drew me to the Hood specifically. Also, my position as global contemporary curator is new, and it was a really exciting prospect to fulfill this role that had never been inhabited before and helping shape what that role could look like in the future. It was a really exciting moment to be at the Hood.
What is global contemporary art?
JH: I feel like when people say “global,” they often think of it as anything that is non-western, which for me still creates these problematic segmentations and further establishes these arbitrary socio-geopolitical borders. “Global” is also usually associated with globalization. I think the big markers are often cited as the Cold War or 1989, where there was this further expansion of “opening borders,” so to speak, and ... different geographies and cultures could intersect. This was the hope of globalization. “Global” has also exploded with the Internet age and the rise of new technologies. A lot of people talk about how the Internet and new media technologies are supposed to bridge these connections between different people. Again, this is a hope, and as we’ve seen in recent years, it doesn’t necessarily work that way all the time. For me, the term “global contemporary” is undefinable and is a concept that I will continue to develop and evolve during my time here, but I do see it as one that is open, expansive, inclusive and ever-shifting. Again, through dialogue and discourse, defining that term is a collaborative process, and I can’t wait to do that here at Dartmouth.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and length.