21, No. 6, Sept. 20, 2001
Krannert Art Museum staff
shapes exhibitions and future of museum
Mitchell, News Bureau Staff Writer
(217) 333-5491; firstname.lastname@example.org
by Bill Wiegand
Helfenstein, director of the Krannert Art Museum, and Karen
Hewitt, the museum's associate director, are leading the museum
into the future. In addition to assembling a new staff, Helfenstein
is planning for long-range programming. "You can't just
plan from one year to the next," he said
Visitors to the
Krannert Art Museum may notice an almost tangible sense of excitement
in the air there this season.
Certainly, some of the electricity is being generated by this weeks
opening of a major exhibition featuring the work of cubist sculptor
Jacques Lipchitz and his contemporaries [See related story]. But the
source of the spirit and enthusiasm is coming from beyond the gallery
walls, according to museum director Josef Helfenstein, who assumed the
top post there a year ago, following a period marked by significant
"The first year has been difficult in many ways, but also very
satisfying," said Helfenstein, who came to the UI after serving
as associate director of the Kunstmuseum in Bern, Switzerland, and chief
curator of the museums Paul Klee Foundation. "There are a
few key things [that have taken place at the museum], and we have made
"The first one is staff," he said. "We had between five
and seven open positions. Now, for the first time, we are full, and
I think we have a great staff. We have very competent people, but we
also have people who are interested in forming a team. And that is crucial."
Among the new team members is Helfensteins right-hand manager,
associate director Karen Hewitt. Although new to the museum, Hewitt
is no stranger to the campus or the arts. Before coming to Krannert,
she served as executive acquisitions editor at UI Press. Hewitt says
the administrative skills she honed as an acquisition editor, coupled
with the enthusiasm she has for programming taking place at the museum,
leave her well-suited for her current position, which is largely managerial
Business aside, Hewitt said she feels right at home at Krannert.
"Museums are an extremely comfortable environment for me,"
she said. "My mother is an artist, so from an early age, Ive
been going to museums and to art fairs and shows where she was an exhibitor."
Hewitts blend of managerial skills and art-world experience is
a perfect combination for the job, according to the museum director.
"Karen is fantastic," Helfenstein said. While he and Hewitt
work together closely, Helfenstein noted that "there is a clear
distinction between our roles. She is responsible for all the business-related
affairs, staff matters and day-to-day operations; Im responsible
for the artistic leadership and vision."
Other new professional staff members at the museum are contributing
substantial experience from previous work at museums and art institutions
around the country. They include visiting curator Gisele Atterberry;
exhibitions preparator Lisa Costello; collections curator Kerry Morgan;
education director Ann Rasmus; Cynthia Voelkl, assistant to the director;
and Gretchen Wood, assistant director of development, who also works
for the School of Art and Design and I space, the UIs Chicago
Besides assembling a finely tuned staff, another of Helfensteins
priorities in coming to Illinois was to craft a plan for long-range
programming. "In this profession, you have to plan ahead. You cant
just plan from one year to the next," he said.
"I think we have a very attractive program for the future,"
he added. Its not complete, but Im glad its not because
I want my colleagues to have an impact and to help shape this."
Another primary goal for Helfenstein was to focus on the creation of
new networks specifically, identifying and working with a variety
of partners. Such partnerships, he said, range from collaborations and
research initiatives with faculty members, departmental units and institutional
partners, such as other art museums, to professional organizations such
as the National Endowment for the Arts and National Endowment for the
with Guitar," Jacques Lipchilz, 1914, Bronze sculpture,
Height 76.2 cm, Philadelphia Museum of Art
have established some good connections, he said. "For example,
we will work with the Berkeley Art Museum next year to do a project
together an exhibition on Korean American artist Theresa Hak
Kyung Cha. She died when she was 31 years old, but was a very important
conceptual artist in the 1970s. Like many women artists, her work was
underestimated and never shown. So this will be the first presentation
of her very interesting work here in the Midwest. It should attract
a lot of interdisciplinary attention on campus."
Another noteworthy exhibition in the works is "Drawings of Choice,"
which Helfenstein described as "a very important and famous collection
of post-war American drawings by minimalist and conceptual artists
probably the best private collection in the country. We are organizing
a tour of that exhibition to other museums. Almost every project we
are working on right now will originate here and travel to other well
Some of Helfensteins other visions and plans for the museum also
are beginning to take shape. Since coming to Krannert, for instance,
he has lobbied for the creation of a publication that would document
the museum collection.
"To me, it was obvious that we have to have such a book that would
allow us to show collectors, donors and scholars throughout the world
who we are, and to convey the strength and history of the collection.
Without a catalog of the collection," he said, "the museum
is kind of invisible."
Last year, a museum steering committee began working on that project,
with help from several graduate students. Morgan is now overseeing the
work, a collective effort that will ultimately involve graduate students,
art history faculty members and the museums volunteer research
committee. Helfenstein said the publication, which will be supported
largely through fund-raising efforts by the Krannert Art Museum Council,
is expected to be available in about a year and a half.
Another of Helfensteins ambitious goals for the museum is to produce
catalogs to accompany exhibitions that originate at the museum
whenever financially feasible.
"I think the Lipchitz [catalog] will be an example of what the
standard should be," he said. This catalog will feature a substantial
amount of new, unpublished research, including essays by four internationally
recognized scholars, and significant text by contemporaries of Lipchitz
that have never been printed before.
"Krannert Art Museum is publishing these texts, these primary sources,
for the first time," Helfenstein said.