Imet Apsara DiQuinzio on her fourth day in her new role as the Nevada Museum of Art’s Senior Curator of Contemporary Art. Her belongings are still in boxes, but it’s already clear that this East Bay transplant already is in love with her new surroundings.
“It must be something in this fresh mountain air,” she says. “Everyone here is so nice. There’s this wonderful camaraderie everywhere, people are so talkative and outgoing and friendly. That’s one of the things that’s really impressed me so far about Reno … aside from the beauty of the landscape.”
Indeed, the team at NMA, the state’s venerable, premiere arts institution, which is currently celebrating its 90th year, is abuzz with excitement about DiQuinzio’s arrival. She comes to NMA with 20 years’ curatorial experience. Most recently, she spent nearly 10 years (the last four as senior curator) with the Berkeley Art Museum & Pacific Film Archive (BAMPFA) curatorial staff, as well as six years at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and four years with the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York.
DiQuinzio joins the NMA at a crucial time, both in terms of its plans for a significant museum and gallery space expansion, as well as the growing community-wide desire for a more inclusive approach to exhibitions, with a greater diversity of artists and more opportunities for local and BIPOC talent.
“The museum is really thriving and moving toward this expansion, so it feels like the right time to be here,” DiQuinzio says. “But I was also very impressed and inspired by many of the initiatives that they had already developed, such as the Center for Art + Environment, and their strong commitment to working with various First Nation tribes in the area and Indigenous populations. So that was something that really drew me to this place as well.”
Though she’s spent 20 years in such illustrious arts destinations as San Francisco and New York, it’s the agility afforded by a smaller institution that energizes her. “It’s funny, I’ve worked in large museums and small museums, and I’ve found that the smaller ones — especially since the pandemic and everything that’s been going on culturally and socially in the last two years — are really the most nimble spaces. I really appreciate that. And they’re some of the most interesting. Some of the shows that have been done here are phenomenal, and they aren’t what you’d find at an SF MOMA or a Whitney, because in smaller spaces, you get a much more open, experimental attitude toward exhibition-making.
“You also don’t have the pressure of having to work with, you know, the stars of the art world, the blockbuster shows. That’s not to say that they don’t come here or that I wouldn’t do those. But in a larger museum, such as SF MOMA, they have huge overhead to make every year. There’s a lot of pressure to fill that by doing blockbuster shows all the time. But what I like is the flexibility, the experimentation that smaller museums afford.”
In museum circles, she’s known for her work as an art historian, having curated the first important survey exhibitions and retrospectives of notable artists Ron Nagle, Harvey Quaytman, and Charles Howard, among others. “I’m always looking for exceptional work that has, perhaps, fallen off the radar historically,” she says.
Most recently, however, it’s been her emphasis on inclusivity in the art world that has earned her attention: Her exhibition New Time: Art & Feminisms in the Twenty-First Century, a survey of contemporary feminist art practice from the last 20 years, is impressive in its scope, including an intergenerational and international roster of 77 artists. It was a massive, four-year undertaking to bring the exhibition to fruition. Aligned with the exhibit, all stemming out of the response to the 2016 presidential election, DiQuinzio launched the Feminist Art Coalition, a platform for collaboration among museums across the nation — collaboration at a scale that could certainly benefit the NMA.
But on day four of her new job — still squarely in the deer-in-the-headlights phase — DiQuinzio insists she comes to her role with no defined agenda except to form relationships with her colleagues and the community, to ponder collaborative opportunities, and to carefully consider the role this museum plays, and should play, for patrons and within this environment.
“I’m really inspired by the Center for Art + Environment and working on projects that help to animate those in interesting ways,” she says. “And I’m really interested in thinking about how the museum of the 21st century can be sustainable. That’s quite a challenging prospect. But it’s something that all of us sort of need to start wrapping our heads around more urgently.”
As for specific plans? She’s tight-lipped at the moment. “There are certain things I’d like to do that I haven’t even had a chance to talk to the team here about yet,” she says. “So it’s a really early stage. Right now, I’m just looking forward to getting to know the community, and I’m excited to hopefully help expand and shift certain paradigms and introduce new concepts that will engage people and that they’ll find resonant, cool, and provocative.”
New Time: Art and Feminisms in the 21st Century, an exhibition that Apsara DeQuinzio curated, is on new at the Berkeley Art Museum & Pacific Film Archive (BAMPFA) in Berkeley, CA through Jan. 30, 2022. More info here.
Cover photo: Eric Marks