The issues at the museum have raised eyebrows in art circles nationally. “Obviously the Walker has a slight cloud over it right now,” said Tom Eccles, executive director of the Center for Curatorial Studies at Bard College. “It’s a cloud; not a downpour, but it needs to get out of it quickly.”
Ms. Viso, in an interview at her office, compared the summer to a marathon — “we hit some rocky terrain in the beginning” — and said there was “a lot of humility around what’s happened.” But she said she was optimistic that growing communications with Native American leaders would allow the museum to repair the relationship going forward.
In response to further questions by email this week, Ms. Viso said that only one staff member shared concerns with her about “Scaffold,” just a week before the controversy erupted Memorial Day weekend. She said she valued “all points of view” from the museum’s staff and board and gets their feedback regularly.
“As executive director, I have to make tough choices that will, of course, not please all,” she wrote.
For the Walker, known for its interdisciplinary collaboration, avant-garde first commissions and award-winning publications, any level of disdain is rare.
A reopening in June of the Sculpture Garden in which “Scaffold” was installed, after a $10 million renovation, drew record attendance. It was the final step in an overall makeover of the museum that has featured a new entrance, more exhibition space and the addition of a restaurant by a renowned chef that’s become a hot spot. A recent critically acclaimed exhibition about the artistry of the choreographer Merce Cunningham highlighted the Walker’s remodeling in seven different galleries plus the theater and cinema.
Ms. Viso is now in her ninth year as director of the museum, a post she took on after the former director, Kathy Halbreich, left in 2007. Regarded as an up-and-comer in her previous job as director at the Smithsonian’s Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, Ms. Viso has been credited by the Washington Post for her willingness to showcase “difficult” work.
“She stuck her neck out…