In Profile

Eva Respini

BY Jean Dykstra, November 3, 2017

When Eva Respini left the Museum of Modern Art in 2014 to become the Barbara Lee Chief Curator at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston, her charge was, in part, to bring a global perspective to the ICA. There was plenty of reason to think she could: she’d been working on an exhibition of Lebanese artist Walid Raad (which she brought to the ICA), and she’d curated shows on Brazilian artist Vik Muniz, Lebanese artist Akram Zaatari, and French multimedia artist Yto Barrada, among others.

And Respini herself has a remarkably global background: Her father is Italian, her mother Norwegian. They met in Thailand, and Respini was born in France. Her family moved every few years, mostly throughout Europe and South America, because of her father’s work at an international company.  “I had an itinerant, immigrant upbringing,” she says. “I feel at home in many places.”

But home for the longest stretch of her life was probably MoMA: “I grew up at MoMA,” she says. “I started my career there, and it was an amazing context in which to learn about museums and curating.” During her 14 years there, she saw a shift away from silo-ing art in terms of medium: “A lot of the New Photography shows were about image-making in more pluralistic terms than MoMA had been associated with in the past.”

She brought this approach to the ICA, a smaller, more nimble, more contemporary environment. “The contemporary focus was exciting,” she says, “and that was the work I was doing anyway.”

Take, for example her 2012 Cindy Sherman retrospective at MoMA. “Her artworks really made a mark on my thinking about the formation of identity,” she says. “She was so prescient in terms of the idea of malleable identity and performing our identity.”

Some of those same issues are explored by Gillian Wearing, whose site-specific installation is on view at the ICA through December 31. A wall of portraits made using age-progressing technology, Rock ‘n’ Roll 70 suggests what the artist might look like when she’s 70 years old. Opening in February, meanwhile, Art in the Age of the Internet, 1989 to Today includes such contemporary artists as Dara Birnbaum and Trevor Paglen and earlier work by Nam June Paik and Lynn Hershman Leeson, among others. “I’ve always wanted to do a show that engages with ideas of the Internet, but puts it into a historical perspective,” says Respini.

Given her interests in post-Internet art and the intersection of performance and the visual arts, the Nicholas Nixon retrospective, which opens December 14, may seem surprising. But Respini notes that the ICA is dedicated to connecting with local artists, and Nixon, who lives in Boston, hasn’t had a major show there since 1983 (at the ICA). Centered around his series The Brown Sisters, the show will include work from other series over his long career. What will come through, says Repsini, will be “his persistence of vision, the concerns that have been central to him – his observations of the human condition, families, couples, relationships.”