ELMHURST – Elmhurst Art Museum Executive Director John McKinnon has initiated his first exhibit for the museum, which is Alex Chitty's "They will bloom without you," featuring sculpture, drawings, photographs and video. The exhibit opened Nov. 18 and ends Jan. 7.
McKinnon began his role at the museum, 150 Cottage Hill Ave., in August. Previously, he was the program director of the Society for Contemporary Art at the Art Institute of Chicago and assistant curator of modern and contemporary art at the Milwaukee Art Museum.
Suburban Life reporter Mary Stroka recently caught up with McKinnon to discuss the new exhibit, the McCormick House and McKinnon's work at the museum.
Stroka: So how are you settling in as an executive director at the Elmhurst Art Museum?
McKinnon: It's been a great start. I feel welcomed by the community. I'm really glad to be here as the Hebru Brantley exhibition opened, as a sort of welcome present, because that exhibition was a huge success. We've had lots of people attend. In fact, we've extended the show because of the attendance and demand for it. Of course, I'm interested in many other things, such as the McCormick House and other initiatives that have already been started as I begin.
Stroka: With the McCormick House, do you have any plans in place for what you're going to be doing with it as executive director?
McKinnon: The first thing that was initiated by the last director was full restoration of the building. That had already been started before I began, but the next phase will be to reveal the historic facade and entrance to separate the two buildings: the new building and the building built in 1951 by Mies van der Rohe. And my new initiative is to have really regular exhibition programming in the building that responds to stories about the building.
Stroka: I understand the first exhibit that you're having here is the "They will bloom without you" exhibit. Can you tell me a little more about that and why you chose that kind of work for your first exhibit?
McKinnon: My thought was not necessarily this exhibit, but rather this artist, and that's where I started. Alex Chitty, a young contemporary artist from Chicago, really exciting artist, mostly deals with sculpture but does many other media. She proposed an exhibition to me after an initial kind of conversation I had with her. That was done several weeks ago, and she ended up with the title "They will bloom without you."
Stroka: Do you have a vision for the museum in the first year or so? Do you have a vision for this exhibit as well – whether that means drawing in new crowds of people or if you have any major changes that you would like to make with the museum?
McKinnon: It's really hard to succinctly say a vision for the museum. ... So one single vision, one single change is very hard to voice in an interview. However, I can specifically talk about McCormick House because that is something that is changing the institution, really, as it moves forward, as we reconsider this building that had offices in it for 18 years and is now fully visible and open to the public. And we'll be able to fully recognize it even more once construction is done next year. One of my ideas is to have regular artist installations in that building. They can be a full range of different projects. It doesn't have to be a large exhibition that takes over the entire space. There are really, really interesting stories about the structure itself.