An Interview with a Curator: Solveig Øvstebø

Each week CGN interviews a local art-industry professional to discuss the ins and outs of running a space in the city of Chicago. This week we caught up with Executive Director and Chief Curator, Solveig Øvstebø of the Renaissance Society.


Age: 45 

Current Position: Executive Director and Chief Curator, the Renaissance Society at the University of Chicago

Hometown: Bergen, Norway

Previous Occupation: Executive Director, Bergen Kunsthall (2003-2013)


5 favorites from the past week:

Restaurant: S.K.Y. in Pilsen

Shop: Seminary Co-op Bookstores

Read: Constance De Jong, Modern Love

Neighborhood: Hyde Park, of course!

Music: Sigrid, an up-and-coming singer-songwriter from Norway


Tell us about your background and the journey that led you to become Executive Director and Chief Curator of the Renaissance Society?

I joined Bergen Kunsthall as curator in my late 20s as I was finishing up my MA, and a few years later I was appointed director. During my time there I made exhibitions with some incredible artists including Rosa Barba, Danh Vo, Christopher Williams, Nairy Baghramian, Runa Islam, and Sergej Jensen. In the summer of 2012 I was invited to apply for this job at the Ren, which of course I couldn't pass up, and the just about a year later my family and I undertook a very big move across the Atlantic!


Give us a day in the life!

My daughters are 4 and almost 6, so getting us all ready and out of the house in the morning is often a bit of a circus.

At the office, my days usually consist of meetings with staff and other stakeholders, making plans with artists for upcoming exhibitions, fundraising, writing and editing texts, and of course lots and lots of emails! In the evenings I am frequently out at events with our supporters or seeing exhibitions at other institutions, but if it's a home night I might hang out with the girls at the playground before dinner.


What major successes have you had this year? What about challenges?

What has been really exciting in the last year is seeing a number of artworks we have commissioned going out into the world. New projects by Kevin Beasley, Sadie Benning, and Mathias Poledna were acquired by major international museums (Tate Modern, MoMA, and the Art Institute of Chicago, respectively), and Jennifer Packer's beautiful show Tenderheaded is currently on view at the Rose Museum of Art at Brandeis University near Boston. The Ren is a small and nimble institution that does a lot, so one of my biggest challenges is simply managing my time and a very varied workload.  


How would you sum up your experience with the Renaissance Society thus far?

My experience at the Ren so far has been truly amazing. I feel that one of the greatest things about being a curator is just continually learning from artists, being alongside them from initial idea to final presentation. I also learn a ton from my brilliant team of colleagues. I faced a steep learning curve when I arrived in Chicago in terms of negotiating a new and very different cultural and professional field, but I have been humbled by, and am so grateful for, the community of support I have found around the Ren, from the generosity of funders to the enthusiasm of artists to work with us.


What do you want to tell a young person considering this career path?

Look at art, read about art, talk to artists. Stay informed, but avoid chasing trends. And treat people well.


Favorite pursuit outside of the art world?

I love swimming in Lake Michigan (in the summer) and doing anything outdoors.


What’s coming up next at the Renaissance Society?

Our current exhibition, Richard Rezac: Address, runs through June 17 and really shouldn't be missed! I'm also particularly excited about solo shows next season with Shadi Habib Allah in the fall and Liz Magor in the spring.


Solveig Øvstebø is Executive Director and Chief Curator of the Renaissance Society. For more information about the space please visit: The Renaissance Society.