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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Saturday, April 19, 2014

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In Arts & Entertainment

Emilia Layden is the new associate curator at Marquette's Haggerty Museum of Art.

Milwaukee Talks: Haggerty Museum's Emilia Layden


After serving as interim associate curator at Marquette University's Haggerty Museum of Art since July, Emilia P. Layden was recently named to the position permanently.

A New Orleans native, Layden studied and worked in Boston, Chicago and New York before arriving in Milwaukee a few years ago.

"Emilia is an interdisciplinary thinker and is well equipped to work collaboratively with our staff and the Marquette University faculty to create exhibitions that are relevant and responsive to the existing curriculum and the wider arts community," said the Haggerty's Chief Curator Wally Mason, when Layden's hiring was announced.

"Her prior university art museum experience makes her a great fit."

We caught up with Layden at the start of the new year to see how she enjoys living in Milwaukee and her plans for upcoming shows at the museum.

OnMilwaukee.com: Congratulations on the new position.

Emilia Layden: Thank you. I am very excited to be a part of Marquette's Haggerty Museum.

OMC: You've been at the Haggerty since July. Do you already feel pretty much at home by now there and in Milwaukee?

EL: I do feel at home at the Haggerty. The museum staff is small, but incredibly committed and very productive. I also feel at home in Milwaukee, which has a very vibrant arts community. I moved here a few years ago after getting married and while living here commuted to Chicago for work. We have a great group of friends and I have been able to get involved in the community through my work on the Milwaukee Film board and the City of Milwaukee Arts board.

OMC: Can we go back a bit and have you tell us a bit about where you come from and your background in the visual arts world?

EL: I grew up in New Orleans and went to college in Boston. I've had a broad range of professional experiences in the visual arts, both at museums and in a business setting. I started my career at Sotheby's New York where I worked for a few years before deciding to pursue a MA in art history.

After moving to Chicago and completing a MA at the University of Chicago I worked at the Art Institute as a curatorial and research assistant and eventually at the Smart Museum (at the University of Chicago) in museum administration. Immediately prior to joining the staff of the Haggerty I was the programming manager for two contemporary art fairs – Art Chicago and NEXT – where I oversaw the symposium "Converge: Contemporary Curators Forum," the onsite exhibitions programs and other education and outreach initiatives.

OMC: Did you know of the Haggerty before you got the chance to come here? Has it been what you had envisioned?

EL: I have known about the Haggerty since moving to Milwaukee and was always impressed with the range of the programming and exhibitions – which includes shows featuring contemporary photography to exhibitions of Old Master paintings. Even though I had a very basic understanding of the permanent collection prior to my arrival it has been such a pleasant surprise to discover the true depth and breadth of the museum's collection. Many people know the museum's Keith Haring mural or Salvador Dali painting, but there are many other noteworthy works in the collection. About a third of the collection is searchable via on online database on our website.

OMC: How about Milwaukee? Did you have preconceived notions of what you'd find here?

EL: I am very proud to call Milwaukee home. I admit that I wasn't quite sure what to expect after living in large cities like Chicago and New York but I have been so impressed by the number and diversity of cultural resources and institutions. The people in Milwaukee – in the arts community and beyond – are also very welcoming. There is a tremendous amount of civic pride here, rightfully so.

OMC: Being part of a university setting, does a museum like the Haggerty have a different mission – a different goal – than an institution like, say, the Art Museum, for example?

EL: You are absolutely correct that the Haggerty serves a different – albeit complementary – purpose. As a teaching museum at a University, the Haggerty's primary mission is to enrich the intellectual and creative life of the students, faculty and community at large through its exhibitions and educational programs.

In the context of Marquette, our goal is to enhance the undergraduate education experience by engaging students and faculty from a variety of disciplines and encouraging them to think about the world and their particular subject matter – be it English, Political Science or Philosophy – through the lenses of the visual arts. In this way the museum serves as a forum for critical inquiry and a venue that promotes visual literacy.

The exhibitions at the Haggerty are often integrated into or developed in direct response to the wider Marquette curriculum: for example, the recent exhibition "Thenceforward and Forever Free" was conceived as a compliment to a university-wide "Freedom Project" initiated by the History department.

Interdisciplinary engagement with the visual arts at the Haggerty is not limited to Marquette students.

OMC: And it's also available to the entire community, too.

EL: The museum is absolutely a resource for the wider community, and we like to consider ourselves the most accessible institution in Milwaukee – admission and programs are free and we are open every day.

We frequently host classes from UWM and MIAD, as well as other Universities from the Milwaukee area. We collaborate with other visual arts institutions like the Chipstone Foundation, which recently produced an installation "Text/Context" at the Haggerty. The museum also works collaboratively with elementary and middle school teachers, local artists and College of Education faculty and students to design programs that engage children and youth in educational activities.

OMC: Can you tell us a bit about what you're working on bringing to the Haggerty in coming months?

EL: On Jan. 19 three new exhibitions open: "Dark Blue: The Water as Protagonist," which is comprised of contemporary photographs, "Images of the Virgin Mary," which integrates Old Master paintings, prints and sculpture with modern and contemporary works of the same subject matter, and "Read Between the Lines: Enrique Chagoya's Codex Prints," which includes a series of artist books that are based on ancient Aztec, Mayan and Mixtec examples.

I am particularly excited about the Chagoya show: the artist combines diverse images and cultural references to create intricate, challenging, and richly layered objects that defy conclusive interpretation. The artist will actually be here on Jan. 30 to deliver a lecture followed by a reception in the museum. Both programs are free and open to the public.

In August 2013 the third installment of "Current Tendencies" will open. It will feature the work of eight emerging, mid-career and established Milwaukee artists working in a variety of media including photography, painting, drawing, printmaking and sculpture. The artists participating in the in the exhibition are Tyanna Buie, William E. Carpenter, Evan Gruzis, Jon Horvath, Mark Mulhern, Jean Roberts Guequierre, Cassandra Smith and Jessica Steeber – in collaboration – and Jason Yi.

Each installment of the Current Tendencies exhibition series has differed slightly, and for this edition participating artists will respond to work(s) from the permanent collection of the Haggerty Museum. Each artist will be asked to select at least one permanent collection work and create an installation that places the work(s) in dialogue with their own. This exhibition model aims to elicit fresh perspectives about the Milwaukee artists' work by making conceptual or aesthetic connections to work from the permanent collection.

OMC: You worked in the Department of Architecture and Design at the Art Institute – can we expect to see more of that sort of work at the Haggerty?

EL: One of the best things about the Haggerty is the access to the "brain trust," that is, the students and faculty, that a university setting provides. As I mentioned before, exhibitions at the Haggerty are often integrated into non-art history or studio art course work. I would certainly be open to collaborating with another university department – Engineering, for example – to conceptualize an exhibition that featured architectural drawings or design objects. It's the opportunity to work on these kinds of interdisciplinary exhibitions that is so exciting to me. And it is this kind of work – based on a partnership between the museum and faculty research and scholarship– that university art museums like the Haggerty can uniquely do.

OMC: Do you have some favorite restaurants, bars, places you enjoy spending time?

EL: I live on the East Side, which has so many great restaurants and offers access to any number of activities. When it's a bit warmer I enjoy spending time in the lakefront parks. As far as dining: Le Reve in Wauwatosa is a great lunch spot and I always have great meals at Braise and The Rumpus Room. Sugar Maple in Bay View has a great beer selection and the tastings at Milwaukee Brewing Company and Lakefront Brewery – Friday Night Fish Fry is fun, too – are a great time.


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