Walker Art Center
Musings on Globalism and Institutional Change

I had a similar experience of differing values when we were working on one of our early contemporary shows. I was in Indonesia meeting with an artist. My colleagues in the U.S. were sending the artist requests for information by fax since he did not have Internet access, but they were not receiving a response. When I looked at the letter--a letter that would have felt completely comfortable to me in New York--I was appalled because it followed none of the ways that you would appropriately and respectfully request something in Indonesia. This notion of difference in the specificity of communication, no matter how much you are a part of the information age, comes up often and you must deal with it. The danger lies in the illusion that, because we live in the age of channel surfing and fast-paced Internet connections, we completely understand one another. In fact, we don't.

KH: That is ultimately the hideous danger of globalism. Another is a horrific homogenizing, even though we know that the McDonald's hamburger in India may taste different . . .

VND: Because it's not made of beef!

KH: Exactly. Even the multinationals have recognized that they can't always export exactly the same thing from Manhattan to Mumbai. But it's still a burger, so even the appetites of a culture are influenced by this homogenizing, this flattening of individual desire and taste (in the broadest sense of the word). But, additionally, there's a prevailing sense that we don't need to take the time to understand the underlying values, the culturally specific values. I believe that it is the responsibility of arts organizations to highlight those differences and values, and by doing that, paradoxically, to connect us all. In other words, we're going to get connected not because we're all the same but because we recognize and respect our differences. The connections are simply the distribution systems, like telephone networks. They're not the content.

VND: We will be truly connected only when we have a fuller understanding of our differences. To actually accept somebody, fully recognizing their differences, is the hardest thing to do, right? Yet, as you were talking, I realized, given my own personal trajectory, I am forever trying to find connections. I don't know if it's because I'm a middle child, or because I left India at the age of sixteen and was thrown into a situation where I didn't know a soul in America. But I found myself asking, How can I connect with people so I won't feel so lonely?

KH: It seems to me that no matter how you deal with the existential dilemma, it's still a dilemma of autobiography and history, which binds the individual to his or her social standing. I wonder if any social, ethical, or political agenda is ultimately not rooted in the personal. I'm sitting here smiling at the two of us because we both have been pegged at times as pioneers, whether or not we accept that rubric. Isn't it partially related to the fact that we are women who came of age in the 1960s and became museum directors at a time when the "gender wall" began to fall, and we realized we could actually help knock it down with our questioning?

VND: I suspect our institutional missions owe something to our own sense of social activism. We both have a certain level of intellectual curiosity and cultural openness and, therefore, a willingness to put ourselves on the line. Some people might call it foolhardiness. I tend to get to the top of a cliff before I realize there is a precipice, a potential for falling down. Maybe it's useful that we don't initially ask where this journey is going to take us, but rather just believe in the process.

KH: We ask a lot of questions along the way, but we don't need to find the answers immediately. I don't expect to reach a point in life when Truth--with a capital T--will be revealed. Life is about stumbling on multiple truths. I don't mean to harp too much on the issue of gender, but I am interested in how gender does play out in the global arena. I am absolutely aware of the difficulties my Japanese female colleagues have to this day being major players in their country. I'm also aware of the issues of leadership that can be colored by gender. I think the way some women lead parallels the network model: it is inclusionary and, perhaps, less linear and more hyperlinked and open.

VND: One could argue that women intrinsically understand the flexibility of one's sense of identity. Some people have said it's because women traditionally have had to play multiple roles--daughter, mother, wife--all at the same time. As a result, there is a flexibility of identity, which we now define as the postcolonial, the third space, the shifting of identity, multiple identities. Women seem to adapt more easily to it. I would like to think