Ruth Estevez is the new gallery director and curator at REDCAT. (REDCAT )
As the REDCAT gallery at Disney Hall approaches its 10th year of exhibitions and events, it retains a scrappy, pop-up vibe — young, experimental, unpredictable at best, or uneven and unreliable at worst. And it has gone without a director since Clara Kim decamped for the Walker Art Center more than a year ago.
So REDCAT's hiring of Ruth Estévez as its new gallery director and curator, effective in November, could be a game-changer. A curator born in Spain who made her name in Mexico City, Estévez, 35, is not a familiar figure in the U.S. art world. During a Skype video call from her home in Mexico City, she talked about some of her priorities as a curator.
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I understand that you helped to found a nonprofit gallery in Mexico City called LIGA. What does LIGA mean and what does it do?
Before we moved in, it was a space where they were selling Bibles. Their name was LIGA Bible. LIGA means a kind of nexus between a group of people, so we decided to keep the name and call it LIGA, Space for Architecture. For us it meant connections between architecture and other disciplines, not only art but dance or scenography. We were inviting young architects from Latin America to try to develop exhibitions that weren't based on architectural models and renderings [but on] site-specific work and installations.
Before LIGA you were chief curator of the Museum of Contemporary Art Carrillo Gil. For anyone who doesn't know the institution, how would you describe its role?
Carrillo Gill opened in 1974 and was the first museum in Mexico focused on mid-career Mexican and South American artists. It also has a very important modern and contemporary Mexican art collection. In my time there I was developing new commissions. For you it might be normal, but in Mexico most museums really focus on regular exhibitions. So I wanted to invite into the museum young or mid-career artists from Latin America and also other countries — like Guy Ben-Ner from Israel and Mark Manders from Belgium.
Have you worked along the way with any L.A. artists?
Just a few. I worked with Sam Durant for a show at CECUT [the Centro Cultural Tijuana] that I co-curated with Lucia Sanroman in 2008. It was called Proyecto Civico/Civic Project.
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REDCAT is known for its theater as well as the gallery. I take it the emphasis on performance appealed to you.
Definitely. I studied as a scenographer or set designer, working with contemporary dance and theater in Belgium before I moved to Mexico. And I really like the idea of having this amazing theater just two steps from the gallery — maybe making exhibitions that connect to what's in the theater. If possible I would like to open the exhibitions with performances by artists.
Previous directors Eungie Joo and Clara Kim had a strong international focus, especially on Asian art. Is that part of the mission of REDCAT as you understand it?
I think REDCAT is in this position because Eungie and Clara had these interests and did a fantastic job, but my focus is more Latin American and Mediterranean. I'd like to maintain the idea of inviting mid-career artists, but I won't be so focused in one geographic region. I will try to bring in artists who don't work in the center, whether they're from Latin America or Eastern Europe. And getting to know young artists in L.A. is also very important to me. I will try to make a lot of studio visits in the city.
Speaking of Latin America.... Every time I go to Disney Hall to see Dudamel at night, the REDCAT gallery is closed. Is that something that might change?
I hope so. For me reaching the public is very important.
REDCAT is located across the street from MOCA in one direction and Eli Broad's new museum in another. Do you think REDCAT should be working with these museums — and in what way?
It would be great if we could collaborate and have openings at the same time. Or if Broad had a nice artist coming there because they bought a piece, maybe we have a conference with the artist speaking that would interest students and artists. One of the things that's very important for me is connection between REDCAT and its [parent] university, CalArts. How can I do things to help students?
You are from Bilbao, home of course to Frank Gehry's most famous museum building. So it must be strange to know that you will be working in Disney Hall, another Gehry building.
My first student job when I was 18 was giving guided tours of a Robert Rauschenberg exhibition at the Guggenheim [Bilbao]. It's very funny to me that, now, after 20 years, I will be working in a building that's so similar.