We are thrilled to welcome Catharina Manchanda to the Seattle Art Museum as our new Jon and Mary Shirley Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art! Manchanda will be joining the SAM team in August. To introduce Catharina to our community, we asked her a couple of questions about art and life in Seattle. You can also read more about Catharina in our official press release.

Can you tell us a little bit about where you have come from and the path that lead you to Seattle?

It has been an adventure. Originally from Germany, I lived for ten years in New York City where I got my graduate degree and had the opportunity to work on a retrospective of Gerhard Richter’s paintings at MoMA. After I finished my Ph.D., I spent two years in St. Louis at Washington University’s Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum. There was a spirit of cooperation between the different art institutions and art professionals that was very inspiring and I enjoyed the close connection between the classroom and the museum. Most recently, I curated exhibitions at the Wexner Center for the Arts in Columbus, Ohio. The Wexner Center is a multi-disciplinary institution with a wonderfully smart and creative staff. Always fascinated by the great outdoors of the West Coast, I moved with my family to Seattle last summer. I have had a terrific year of creative time and greatly look forward to joining SAM in August.

What draws you to Modern and Contemporary art?

Contemporary art is enormously diverse and it is in the process of becoming history. To be engaged in this discussion as it unfolds is one of the most fascinating and rewarding aspects of contemporary art. To fully appreciate the importance of a contemporary contribution, I need to understand it in a larger historical context. But this is not a one-way street. While history informs my reading of contemporary art, the achievements of a younger generation of artists and writers also allow me to rediscover, interpret, and argue the history of Modern Art in altogether new ways.

What do you think is unique about Seattle’s art scene?

There is a spirit of experimentation here in Seattle. More than any other place I have lived and worked, I get the impression that people in the arts are passionately looking ahead, are trying to grow, or are trying to invent something new. And that is exciting.

I understand you have children – what do you think museums can offer to kids and families?

It vastly depends on the age of the kids but no matter what the age: new experiences and encounters. The museum offers an opportunity to have a conversation about topics you would not bring up over dinner. Rather than guide my children through a museum show, I like to let them pick their own path.

If you could meet any artist, dead or alive, who would it be and why?

There are so many, it is hard to pick just one. The mystery of the dead artist is certainly a draw. My interest would be in asking questions that our history books cannot answer. What would Marcel Duchamp reveal in conversation? I would like to ask him where he developed his penchant for breaking the rules. What would Hannah Hoech have to say about women, art, and politics in the early 20th century? Or Andy Warhol on the state of the art today, the growing fascination with celebrity culture and how that intersects with the art world?

You’ve been living in Seattle for about a year now – where’s your favorite place to eat?

There are so many fabulous restaurants in town—and there is much I still have to discover. Brunch is a favorite with my family and we love to go to Café Flora.

Photo: Robert Wade

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  • Hello, my name is Xavier Lopez Jr. I’m a local artist, who also documents the ins and outs of the local “Underground, Alternative, Urban” and otherwise non-mainstream contemporary, Seattle Art scene. At some point, I would love to interview you (Ms. Manchanda) about the current state of the contemporary art world, the nature of the museum versus the street and even more of your sense of the arts here in Seattle. I believe we may have some friends in common and I believe it was you that Jeff Jacobson was speaking to me about and of whom he said some very nice things! Welcome aboard and let me know if I can be of any help to you in any way! Cheers!