Ann Wolfe is kind of a generalist, but then again, everybody’s coming from somewhere.
Wolfe, the Nevada Museum of Art’s new Curator of Exhibitions and collections, is a recent transplant from San Jose, where she was assistant curator at the San Jose Museum of Art. A pan-Californian, she studied art history in Silicon Valley and Los Angeles after being raised in the more agriculturally focused Central Valley. (Her resumé notes that she still runs the Web site for her family’s business, Wolfe Apricots.) Each of these regions has produced artists whose work deals with suburbia, pop culture and population demographics. Consequently, Wolfe specializes in artwork that addresses the way people relate to rapidly changing environments.
“My most recent project is Suburban Escape: The Art of California Sprawl,” she says. “It surveys issues of land use, suburban development and tract-home architecture in California since the 1950s.” Wolfe, who witnessed suburbanization first-hand from the apricot farm, also lists among her recent curatorial projects an exhibition by the painter who chronicled a fictitious war between Northern and Southern California, Sandow Birk’s Divine Comedy, which is now traveling the national museum circuit.
Wolfe, 29, sports arty but businesslike boutique attire, a short, classy haircut and a long, flowing scarf. She speaks with the tempered passion of a scholar, minus the sanctimony. And she seems to like to listen.
She says, “I think it’s important to get a feel and a sense from the community. Having been here just three months, I like to ask everybody, ‘What direction would you like to see [the museum] take?’ I think it’s important to listen to all those people and to acknowledge there’s such a vast variety of art out there.” She even asked the NMA’s security guards what kind of programming they’d like to see.
The museum opened its new building in 2003 with a splash of contemporary conceptualism (Dennis Oppenheim and Reno’s Robert Morrison both had retrospectives). Then, during a six-month span with no head curator, a pattern of more general-audience-oriented exhibitions emerged (Italian antiquities; American functional silver designs). Those trying to chart the museum’s philosophical course have found it a guessing game. So, what’s next at the NMA, now that Wolfe is at the helm? According to her, a little of everything.
“I don’t consider myself a curator who has to go only in my direction,” she explains. “I think with a museum of this size, in a region as diverse as ours, we have to do a lot of things for a lot of different audiences. I’ve worked mostly in contemporary art museums, and that’s a strong interest of mine. But I also have a very generalized background, and I think that will be reflected in the programming that comes to the museum.”
Among other fields that spark her interest, she notes surfing culture and Japanese contemporary pop art. She’s curated exhibits featuring the ultra-hip, cartoon-like paintings and doggie-head sculptures of Yoshitomo Nara and paintings by poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti. She also appreciates more traditional artwork and notes that she’d traveled to Reno before moving here to study the NMA’s extensive Altered Landscape Collection.
“There’s such a vast variety of art out there,” she says. “I think that there’s an opportunity to do so many different things for so many different people.”