JoAnne Northrup


The Nevada Museum of Art recently hired a second curator, JoAnne Northrup, who specializes in contemporary art.

You’re the “director of contemporary art initiatives.” What does that mean?

That means that I am going to be curating exhibitions of contemporary art, but also because the museum has a Center for Art + Environment, I’m going to be focusing on virtual environments. Basically, what we say at the museum is that the emphasis on art and environment means natural, built and virtual environments, and so that’s the place I’m going to carve out while I’m here.

Tell me what “virtual environments” means to you.

What it means to me is an environment that exists either in the digital realm, or in imagination—mainly those two areas.

Give me some examples of some of the work you’ve done at the museum so far and what you’ve got coming up.

Sure. I think the best example that readers will know about is the Leo Villareal exhibition that I organized that was at the museum last year. He creates these light sculptures that are immersive, kinetic light experiences. It’s not just a two-dimensional thing that hangs on the wall. It really envelopes you. … I organized that exhibition at my former place of employment, the San Jose Museum of Art, and then it traveled to Nevada, and it’s actually still traveling. I think it’s still up in Savannah, Georgia, and then the next stop is in the fall it’s going to Wisconsin—the Madison Museum for Contemporary Art.

You curated that for a different museum, and it came to Nevada, and then you came to Nevada?

A year later I came to Nevada. I had a great experience. But my affiliation with the museum actually goes back—first of all, [Curator of Exhibitions and Collections] Ann Wolfe and I worked together at the San Jose Museum of Art. I’ve known Ann for at least a decade. And then, in 2008, I participated in the Art + Environment conference, so I’ve kind of had a connection since then.

What about the NMA appealed to you?

This museum is doing something completely unique in the entire museum world, in that we have the focus on art and environment. And, in a time when things are really difficult for arts organizations, I think that this unique profile has allowed us to distinguish ourselves, and we’re actually in a growth pattern. I mean, I was hired—this is a new position. So we’re really thriving. We found our niche, and we’re really thriving. And I wanted to be affiliated with an institution that’s really has an upward trajectory.

Tell me about some upcoming exhibitions.

I’ll be working on the Edward Burtynsky Oil exhibition that opens in June. Edward Burtynsky is a really well known photographer from Canada, and we’re actually the only venue in the Western United States that’s going to have this show. It’s not going to San Francisco or L.A. It’s coming to Reno. On the artist’s website, there’s this beautiful design that goes over all his current exhibitions that are traveling worldwide and it says Oil, which is the name of the exhibition because it’s focused on the oil industry, and it says, “London. Reno.” We loved that.

Was the draw for moving here solely the museum, or was there something about Reno that attracted you as well?

Actually, before I came here, I had a Fulbright research fellowship in southwest Germany last fall, and I was so struck by the people—how nice they were in Germany. People were just so nice, I was like, what the heck is going on? And found that same quality in Reno. People have been so kind to me and so welcoming. They’ve just gone out of their way. So that’s the attraction [laughs]. It’s also beautiful here, even though it snows in April.