This is the next installment of a weekly interview series, on the Culture Comment blog. It’s called “Behind-the-Scenes.” Each week, we’ll discuss new facts and information about the people that make the Walters Art Museum tick. Now, let’s meet Lisa Lewenz.
Gary Vikan: What do you do at the Walters?
Lisa Lewenz: I am the Manager of Adult Programs in the Education Division. Maybe the word shouldn’t get out that I have one of the best jobs here! Essentially, the curators explain in-depth motivations and concerns about exhibitions (years before they’ll be seen by the public) and then I identify core issues and topics to plan public programs aimed to fascinate and entice the public, including scholars, enthusiasts, Walters members and just about anyone who may never consider crossing a museum threshold. It’s a great adventure, and I love that we offer experiences that make a difference in people’s lives. I often say that my job is like the perfect academic appointment, except that I don’t have to grade bad papers!
GV: How did you get involved in the education field?
LL: My career has been wide ranging—from my “other hat” as an artist and many years teaching as a full time university professor to working as an independent filmmaker and media producer. I was drawn to the Walters for many reasons, including the collaboration with curators, conservators, educators, exhibition designers and everyone who is part of the Walters’ team, which has served as the perfect opportunity to blend what I love most from my previous jobs and experiences.
GV: What was your favorite exhibition?
LL: A big reason I was drawn to join the Walters’ staff was due to the 2006 exhibition, Louise Bourgeois: Femme. I felt the juxtaposition of Louise’s contemporary art against the Walters’ collection was brilliant. The exhibition opened a two-way conversation between the past and the present, exposing more about Bourgeois than you’d find in an exhibition featuring only her artwork and provided insight into various objects by artists and artisans—mostly unknown—representing cultures, styles and periods throughout history.
GV: What is your favorite piece in the Walters’ collection and why?
LL: It’s funny that my ‘favorite Walters artwork’ is like a moving target—it’s always changing. Anyone who knows me well is familiar with an annual April fools card I’ve mailed for decades. Years ago, one of these “fool’s cards” posed as an overdue library notice, featuring a hugely inflated fine for an unreturned book. It was intended to trigger a dual sense of guilt and fear that you’d actually have to pay a disproportionate sum. The card front showed a reproduction of Jean-Léon Gérôme’s The Christian Martyrs’ Last Prayer .
It is such a magnificent painting, and I’ve always loved the historic inaccuracies within the scene. Somehow the fear and power Gérôme chose as his subject seemed perfectly suited for a bit of April foolishness. If you visit my Facebook page, you’ll find my profile picture shows a mildly altered view of several Walters paintings from the 1600s that are installed near Murillo’s The Virgin of the Immaculate Conception. Visit the Walters, look at those paintings and read the great labels about them, and then look at my Facebook page. You’ll find a bit of irony. That’s all I’ll say!
GV: What is the most interesting project you’ve worked on in your career?
LL: Hmm. That’s a tough question to answer, since throughout my career, I’ve worked on so many amazing projects, both my own and others. If I’d choose three of the more memorable ones, they’d probably be, in no particular order, photographing views of Three Mile Island with my view camera, which I published as 1984: A View from Three Mile Island; working as the assistant to artists Christo and Jeanne-Claude on several projects; and the entire process of making my feature-length film, A Letter without Words that premiered as a competition documentary at the Sundance Film Festival and screened so many times worldwide that I lost count. Each of those experiences echoes a bit in my daily work, programming events and pulling together disparate themes and subjects to explore a particular idea.
Learn more about the events at the Walters Museum, on our web site. Do you have a question you would like to ask Lisa? If so, let’s hear about it in the comments!