Some say curator Maiza Hixson is leading a revolution. “She takes art to another level,” says artist Crae Washington.
This painting by Crae Washington is based on a man who was beaten by riot police in Wilmington in 1968.
She went on to study at The Art Institute of Chicago, where she encountered French Situationist notions about individual liberation and discovered that the simple act of taking a walk could become a work of art. “It dislodges conventions about how people think about space for art,” she says. She was also highly influenced by the ideas of Marcel Duchamp, whose “Fountain,” a urinal plainly displayed as a urinal, redefined what could be claimed as art.
After earning a master’s in critical and curatorial studies from the University of Louisville, Hixson worked as a fellow at the Speed Art Museum, where she witnessed an intervention. In the French tapestry wing, curator Julien Robson worked with several artists to install a Piet Mondrian-style teahouse for the exhibition of contemporary works. Eroding the illusion of the court-like space through such “radical juxtaposition” changed her idea of what curation could be. At the very least, it was its own form of artistic expression.
Her early exhibitions cut across the grain. Shows like “Oh Boy! Men and Masculinity” at the now-closed New Center for Contemporary Art in Louisville examined how men—not women—are portrayed in the media. “American Idyll: Contemporary Art and Karaoke,” at the Contemporary Arts Center in Cincinnati, explored a fascination with and revulsion of the medium. It ended with a karaoke sing-off.
When Hixson joined the DCCA in 2010, she brought the same provocative spirit. She also furthered audience participation through interactive exhibitions such as “DRIFT: Artists’ Walks & Runs,” each led by an artist-ambassador from a different Wilmington neighborhood, and “Imperfect City: A Real Time Exhibition,” in which area residents could direct the growth changes in an ideal Wilmington. In all, she curated 45 exhibitions there. “Maiza brought a lot of fantastic things to the DCCA,” says former co-worker Sara Teixido. “She loves experimenting, but is always thinking about the community. She wanted to engage people. She didn’t just want art on the walls.”
Painter Antonio Puri of Philadelphia, whose monumentally scaled “Birthplace” is hanging in the group show “Layering Constructs” at DCCA until Sept. 7, has exhibited around the world. He praises Hixson’s choice of artists in “Layering Constructs” and the design sense she employed in the display of his work. “I’m most proud of this show than any show I’ve done,” Puri says. “The artists together are wonderful to be with. Having Maiza as a curator is a true honor. I love her vision, how real she is, her intelligence. “She needs to be in the world arena, in my opinion. Delaware is lucky to have her.”
All of Hixson’s interests—exposing deserving or little-known artists, challenging societal norms, engaging many kinds of people in the act of making and viewing art, healing the individual and the society—intersected in May during The Make Out Mob. Hixson invited anyone and everyone to H.B. DuPont Park to make some display of affection as a way to counter the city’s portrayal by Newsweek as “Murder Town USA.” Local workers gathered at the end of the day to participate or to watch everything from hugs and polite pecks on the cheek to kissing that bordered on get-a-room. Social experience, Hixson says, can be a form of art.
“It went perfectly,” says Will Minster who, as director of Downtown Visions, hired Hixson, now an independent curator, to help him find ways to keep people in the business district after hours and create a hipper, more progressive city.“ There are 50,000 people working downtown every day. They need to feel comfortable,” Minster says. “That means making downtown a little different. You want to work somewhere that’s cool and different. Crazy ideas sometimes have legs. Maiza has ideas for events most people would never think of.”
Hixson is working with Downtown Visions, the Wilmington Renaissance Corporation, the mayor’s office and others to re-invigorate the city’s Art Loop and coordinate other projects. As part of Visions’ First Thursday series, she and curatorial partner Lauren Ruth on Aug. 6 will re-create the “little white cubes” that serve as galleries and 9-to-5 workspaces to display the art of people who labor daily in downtown offices.
“Everybody is an artist. I believe that. I know there are artists working in the cubicles of Capital One,” Hixson says. “We need to find an opportunity to be human. That’s what I want to encourage more of.”