The MCA’s dream team
Meet two new faces revamping the museum—and one longtime staffer with a groundbreaking new role.
Dieter Roelstraete, senior curator
Will shake up the MCA by lending a global perspective
What that will mean to you The trends Roelstraete saw at Antwerp’s contemporary art museum may be coming your way soon. “I see a renewed enthusiasm for ceramics and weaving and folk art,” he says.
When MCA chief curator Michael Darling met Roelstraete last June in Berlin, the conversation quickly veered to the changes afoot at the MCA. Roelstraete, a curator at MuHKA—the contemporary art museum in Antwerp, Belgium—was intrigued. “It seems that it’s a museum that is in a transitory moment and is interested in redefining itself and rebuilding a new vision for museums in the 21st century,” he says. The native Belgian, 39, visited Chicago in August, met MCA director Madeleine Grynsztejn and, last month, agreed to come on board. He assumes the role of senior curator in February.
“Having been at MuHKA for eight years, I now know Europe and European systems quite well—how museums are run and just the general cultural environment,” Roelstraete says. “It’s not that I was getting tired of that, but the opportunity to come to Chicago and a very different kind of institutional culture holds huge appeal for me.” He first visited Chicago last April, deciding to fly here after a speaking engagement at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis. “One of the things that’s appealing about moving to Chicago is that it’s a city with an amazing musical history,” he says. “I’m a big jazz fan, especially free jazz, and the whole musical scene around Tortoise and all those bands, the Empty Bottle, Ken Vandermark—I’m hoping at some point these people will come knocking on my door and engage my gong playing or something.” (Roelstraete, a self-described “gong nut,” plays in an ensemble.)
The son of an artist, Roelstraete had artistic inclinations from a young age but decided to study philosophy. “I’m not going to be Freudian about it,” he says with a laugh, “but it was clear I was not talented in the artistic formal sense.” After studying at the University of Ghent in Belgium, he ran a magazine published by Antwerp’s Center for Visual Culture, which, in 2002, merged with MuHKA. He was soon tapped to start curating. One of his major interests: the uses of history in contemporary art—a subject he spoke about in October at a contemporary art forum at MIT.
Roelstraete says he looks forward to collaborating with Beckwith, Darling and the other curators: “It really feels like these are people whom I’d have a great time working with, because they seem to share some of my impulses about art as a basic human activity and something [that’s] very healthy for society.”