Menil Collection founding director Walter Hopps set a precedent for curatorial standards not simply in Houston, but the world over. As a tribute to his legacy, the museum founded the Walter Hopps Curatorial Achievement Award in 2001 to recognize curators in their early to mid-careers who have made significant contributions to the field of contemporary art.
Adam Szymczyk, director and chief curator of Kunsthalle Basel in Basel, Switzerland, has been selected as this year's recipient by a panel that included Iwona Blazwick, director of London's Whitechapel Gallery (who recently lectured at the Glassell School), Donna De Salvo, chief curator of the Whitney Museum of American Art and former senior curator at Tate Modern and Hamza Walker, director of education and associate curator of the Renaissance Society at the University of Chicago (and the 2005 recipient of the Hopps Award).
Szymczyk caught the eye of the committee for the attention he pays to largely "untested" artists.
"Becoming established in the art world can be intimidating," he told CultureMap during an overseas phone interview from Switzerland, "which is why I work with young artists without previous exhibitions. But it's not entirely about age — there are 70-year-old artists who are equally untested.
The curator's role is to change the focus of attention and spark the public's curiosity."
Recent exhibitions he has organized include Micol Assaêl: Chizhevsky Lessons (2007), Danh Vo: Where the Lions Are (2009) and Moyra Davey: Speaker Receiver (2010). Those artists' names may come across as foreign, but Szymczyk has made it his life's work to expose such unknown talent.
For 2011, he has his wide-open eye set on American painter Rebecca H. Quaytman, who currently has a show at SFMoMA and an upcoming exhibition at the Neuberger Museum of Art in upstate New York, but has yet to be seen by European audiences.