Walker, perhaps best known for creating large-scale, cut-paper black-and-white tableaus depicting the horrors of slavery, arrived on campus last month. She follows Catherine Murphy as the second holder of the fully endowed Tepper Chair in Visual Arts at Mason Gross. This endowed faculty position, created in 2011, is funded by a $3 million gift from Rutgers College alumna Marlene A. Tepper.
The 1997 recipient of a John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Achievement Award says she plans to welcome Rutgers students into her own creative conversation, a conversation that she acknowledges often extends into issues of race, sex, gender, and history.
“I like the thought of throwing an idea out into a group of eager students and hashing through it every [few] weeks,” says Walker, 45, whose work is on view at, among other institutions, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, the Museum of Modern Art, and The Metropolitan Museum of Art. “We can have an extended conversation about what I’m thinking about and what they’re thinking about art and civil duty and space and race. Students are primed and ready to be shooting ideas back and forth.”
Mason Gross Dean George B. Stauffer says Walker’s appointment is “a coup for Mason Gross, and a coup for Rutgers University.”
Gerry Beegan, chair of the Visual Arts Department, says Walker’s willingness to stray from her trademark cut-paper silhouettes and tackle new mediums, projects, and venues make her an ideal student mentor and faculty collaborator. Walker’s recent boundary-pushing experiences include crafting the 80-ton A Subtlety, or The Marvelous Sugar Baby sculpture in 2014 at the Domino Sugar Factory in Brooklyn and designing sets, costumes, and directing an opera at this year’s Venice Biennale.
“The department is in great shape, but I think she could bring an extra something, a new energy and new way of doing things,” Beegan says. “For the students, I think it will inspire them to create in ways they haven’t imagined before and to take on daunting projects.”
As a mentor, Walker hopes to instill in her students a sense of curiosity about their place in the world and the courage to not only reflect that truth in their work but to thoughtfully defend it.
“If anything I can foster an environment of openness and maybe willingness to live with contentious images and objectionable ideas, particularly in the space of art,” said Walker, who has experience discussing her work with unsettled audiences. “For me it gets us to a place where we can talk to those concerns and how as artists we can creatively solve problems when problems arise.”
View Walker's work.
-- Lisa Intrabartola