Spend even a few minutes conversing with Karl Willers and you’ll feel enriched. The Nassau County Museum of Art director’s knowledge is vast and esoteric—he is a bona fide expert in art history. “We have this Abstract Expressionism reconsideration exhibit in March. There’s a real revival going on in this country, where young artists nowadays are celebrating many of the unseen American painters from the 40s and 50s. It’s actually thrilling to be a part of it,” Willers says.
Over the last three decades, Willers’ enthusiasm for art has flourished. He’s worked as the curator and director for various high profile galleries and museums across the states, including the Whitney Museum’s downtown branch, which he ran for ten years. In 2010, he joined the NCMA and strives to diversify the museum’s programming as much as possible. “I like to mix it up and the museum encourages that. So we can organize a pop art Warhol show or plan a gothic Goya one. It’s limitless.”
NCMA hosts a wide variety of exhibitions annually and is situated on a 145-acre property of lush, beautiful gardens with historic architecture, walking trails and a sculptural park of forty monumental works. “Working here is a true privilege. It has a certain mystique, a charm that elevates the whole artistic experience.”
Nowadays the public wants to participate in artistic and historic traditions, according to Willers. “People know there’s nothing like surrounding yourself with great artwork,” he says. “It’s an immeasurable experience. And in today’s digital world there are new tools to engage these inquisitive audiences, and the people are responding.” In addition to implementing multimedia educational opportunities, NCMA has broadened its reach with social media.
Despite the growing interests, Willers is cognizant of the financial challenges affecting the art world since the 2008 financial collapse. “The resources and donations aren’t as available as they once were. So it forces you to be clever in managing these funds so you can still put on a fantastic show. I guess you can say we’ve learned to make better shows with less.”
Even with this lull in funds, NCMA continues to organize new exhibits every few months, presenting works that traverse all time periods and geographic locations. “When I show up to work in the morning and there are rows of yellow buses filled with young students waiting to see the exhibits, it’s abundantly clear to me how important the arts are to our younger community.”
Willers understands the value of art to the community and he says he can’t imagine himself doing anything else. “I’ve been at this for a long time. My whole life, actually,” Willers laughs. “But my life is art. We introduce art and beauty to others.”
2013 at the Nassau County Museum of Art
AB-EX / RE-CON
Abstract Expressionism Reconsidered
March 9—June 16
Everybody knows Pollock, but AB-EX wasn’t a man, it was a movement. These boldly abstract and gestural paintings were a rejection of homogenized post-WWII American values.
Alex Katz: Selections from the Whitney Museum of American Art
June 29—Oct 13
A chronology of works from Katz’s early landscapes and collages to his gigantic, distinctive flat color portraits that are a touchstone of the pop art movement.