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Q&A: Naoko Takahatake on new curator role at Hammer Museum’s Grunwald Center

Naoko Takahatake smiles, dressed in a navy blue shirt. Takahatake was recently appointed as the new Director and Chief Curator of the Grunwald Center for the Graphic Arts at the Hammer Museum. (Courtesy of The Hammer Museum)

By Isabella Appell

Nov. 21, 2023 5:20 p.m.

This post was updated Nov. 28 at 7:46 p.m.

Naoko Takahatake is painting a fresh perspective for her new role.

As the newly appointed director and chief curator of the Grunwald Center for the Graphic Arts at the Hammer Museum, Takahatake is in charge of sifting through more than 45,000 prints, drawings and photographs spanning from the Renaissance to the present. She previously served as the curator of prints and drawings at Los Angeles County Museum of Art until 2019 and later as the curator of prints and drawings at the Getty Research Institute. With academic training specializing in the 16th and 17th centuries, she said she expanded her curatorial expertise in preparation for her first day at the Grunwald Center on Oct. 16.

Takahatake spoke with the Daily Bruin’s Isabella Appell about her insights into the dynamic landscape of art.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

[Related: Counterforce Lab combines arts and science, works to foster ecological awareness]

Daily Bruin: The exhibits in the Grunwald Center are very student focused. What made you want to work at a university-owned museum?

Naoko Takahatake: I am really excited about being devoted to a focused collection of prints and drawings that prioritizes access (to students, professors and the general public) through dedicated exhibitions, programs and teaching. My own work has always bridged curatorial and academic interest, and that is reflected in the exhibitions I have done.

My earliest exposure to prints was as an undergraduate student at Vassar College. In my junior year, I took a course on the history of the print in the Western world, and it’s one of the courses that stands out most vividly in my mind, (including) the excitement of discovering this whole new world. I have been extremely fortunate in my career to have many amazing opportunities, so I hope that I have the privilege of offering that kind of experience to students at UCLA.

DB: The Hammer Museum is known for its commitment to contemporary art. How do you plan to incorporate graphic arts into the museum’s contemporary programming?

NT: With the kinds of exhibitions I have organized in the past, I have really been committed to interrogating historical narratives and connecting the past to the present. Artists look at everything. Living artists will look at the art of today, but they look at the art from the past as well, and I think it is very important to be fostering those conversations. It is important for the dialogue to go both ways – to look through the past through the lens of the contemporary, but to still use history to come to a better understanding of our present moment.

(Courtesy of The Hammer Museum)
Guests are pictured browsing at the Hammer Museum. Takahatake previously served as the curator of prints and drawings at Los Angeles County Museum of Art and as the curator of prints at the Getty Research Institute. (Courtesy of The Hammer Museum)

DB: The field of art curation is constantly evolving. How do you intend to stay on top of emerging trends in the world of graphic arts and museum curation?

NT: I think of curatorial work as a collaborative effort. I am extremely fortunate and privileged to work with the whole Hammer curatorial team who bring great expertise but also diverse perspectives on contemporary art. I think it’s important for curators to always be in conversation with one another, so that’s one way in which I will continue to learn and build my knowledge.

In Los Angeles, we are also so fortunate in the graphic arts to be home to major print shops that are internationally recognized but also very community based. It’s such a vibrant print making scene, and I’ve learned so much from conversations with the printers as well.

(Courtesy of the Hammer Museum)
A museumgoer holds a print inside of the Hammer Museum. Takahatake said she hopes to increase the visibility of the Grunwald Center for the Graphic Arts. (Courtesy of the Hammer Museum)

[Related: Q&A: Tarell Alvin McCraney discusses his new position at the Geffen Playhouse]

DB: Can you share a specific project or exhibition idea that you are particularly excited about and how it reflects your vision right now for the center?

NT: What I’m really excited about is just giving greater visibility to the collection and making it a really inviting space – both the galleries and the study room. We have a couple of grants in place that will support putting the collections online, granting even more accessibility. I hope that everybody feels like the Grunwald is here for Los Angeles: for our artists, for our students, for the community, for the general public. I want them to feel they can participate in the arts through our center.

DB: Is there anything else you’d like to share regarding your new role?

NT: Part of the reason why I was excited about the opportunity was not just what I hope I can contribute but also to learn from the students, to know, “What are the questions you are asking? What are the challenges that you are facing?” All of that will enrich me not just as a person, but as a curator – as a professional working in the arts. The students at UCLA have so much to offer. It’s a very diverse student body, and I very much look forward to welcoming everyone to the study room, to the galleries and learning from all of you.

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