Meet the Curator: Dana Turkovic of Laumeier Sculpture Park

Monday January 9, 2023

By Kevin M. Mitchell

St. Louis native Dana Turkovic, who has been the curator of Laumeier Sculpture Park for 12 years, began her career without realizing it.

“For many years, I didn’t know what it meant to be a curator, but I loved organizing exhibitions,” she says. “I was just organizing my friends’ works [in any available spaces throughout the city].”

At Webster University, Turkovic received a Bachelor of Fine Arts with a concentration in painting, and then, she moved to Los Angeles, where she continued to pull together exhibitions for friends before landing a job at the Hammer Museum, which is affiliated with the University of California, Los Angeles. There, she learned more about the discipline of curating.

Having decided that curating is her passion, Turkovic attended Goldsmiths, University of London, where she received a Master of Arts with a concentration in curatorial studies. During the program, she learned creative curatorial practices and worked on projects with local cultural institutions such as the Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA) and the National Maritime Museum.

Finally, her journey led her back to St. Louis, where she started working as the curator of Laumeier Sculpture Park.

“Essentially, taking care of art objects is my most important responsibility,” she explains. This includes managing the sculpture park’s permanent collection in order to conserve everything that it encompasses, and with more than 60 sculptures nestled into the natural setting of the park – exposed to the elements – that part of her job can prove to be more difficult than you might think.

She also works with artists on commissions, from conception to completion. While the artist’s vision drives the conversation, Turkovic also makes sure that the work will fit harmoniously into the space where it’s installed.

When new sculptures are placed in the park, they’re never isolated; they’re always meant to interact with the immediate environment. “This is a place where we can talk about art and nature [together],” Turkovic says. “That’s our specialty.”

Laumeier Sculpture Park is a wholly original space that requires an original approach to curation. “Our mission is to engage the community with art and nature,” Turkovic says. “We invite everyone to the park – it’s free and open to the public – and although some of the art is challenging, there is an educational aspect, too.”

From Feb. 11 to May 14, the Aronson Fine Arts Center at Laumeier Sculpture Park will exhibit Yayoi Kusama’s Narcissus Garden. Here, Turkovic gives us more information about the installation.

Laumeier Sculpture Park in St. Louis
Narcissus Garden, 1966/2019, stainless steel spheres.
Collection of Lauren and Derek Goodman.
Installation view MOCA Westport, 2019. Artwork © YAYOI KUSAMA.
Photo: John Videler Photography.

What excites you about Yayoi Kusama’s Narcissus Garden?

This is a well-known work from a well-known artist, but few in the St. Louis area have gotten to explore it. [Yayoi Kusama] was born in 1929, and currently, her career is on the rise once again. We’re excited to bring Narcissus Garden to St. Louis at this time.

When did Kusama create Narcissus Garden?

It was created in 1966, and over the years, it has been shown in different environments, including outdoor gardens, but it will be shown here inside the Aronson Fine Arts Center. Like everything at Laumeier, it’s free, but you’ll want to make a reservation.

Tell us about the immersive installation.

It’s made up of reflective spheres – almost 1,000 mirrored balls! The idea is to look at yourself in the piece as you walk through it. There are not only infinite moments of self-reflection to be experienced, but also the environment that it’s in. Kusama’s work appeals to the selfie culture; it’s kind of surreal. In general, I’m drawn to the idea of filling a space and making it so that art meets its environment, is part of the environment and interacts with it. This is a really good example of that. The installation is this fundamental trio of art object, natural landscape and experience. The experience of the work is important – it’s monumental – but there are quiet moments, too.

Is there an advantage to showing Narcissus Garden inside rather than outside?

The control that [the indoor environment gives us] means the impact that it has on the audience will be stronger. We can put it in an environment that will offer an enhanced experience. For me, it’s a combination of the best cool space that will offer images that are really responsive.

How did this piece land on your radar?

Our executive director, Lauren Ross, brought it to my attention. She was familiar with the piece, and we got it on loan from a private collector. I know [Kusama’s] other work, but I’ve never seen this one, so I’m excited.

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