Holly Jerger. Photo: Symrin Chawla

*Special thanks to Sarah E. Webb for editing this interview

For the past seventeen years, Holly Jerger has been the  Senior Exhibitions Curator at Craft Contemporary, founded as a museum to reveal the potential of craft to educate, captivate, provoke, and empower. Recently, she joined Cal State University, Northridge, as their new Art Galleries Director. In this interview, Jerger reflects on her first encounters with art, her time and collaborative work at Craft Contemporary, and her influences and ideas on memory. 

As a curator, Holly has organized numerous exhibitions, including solo presentations of Betye Saar, Kay Sekimachi, Gronk, Diedrick Brackens, and Beatriz Cortez. As an artist, she has worked in various media, emphasizing printmaking and drawing. She has also been involved in arts education and public programming teaching at institutions such as the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, the Fullerton Museum Center in Orange County, and the City of Los Angeles Department of Recreation and Parks.

Holly and I met during the opening of the Instruments of Memory exhibition at Studio 203 in 2022. We began our conversation about her trajectory in person, having lunch at Yuko Kitchen, a charming spot with greenery decor in the Wilshire area. Holly and I continued to communicate via email up to the announcement of her new adventure.

Claudia Pretelin: Could you briefly discuss your path leading into the arts?

Holly Jerger: Ever since I was a child, I have always drawn, and in high school, I was fortunate to have teachers who encouraged my interest in art. Eventually, I studied studio art at university, receiving a BFA, then MFA with an emphasis on printmaking. I gravitated toward museum studies because I sought ways to teach art post graduation – first in public programming and education, then eventually moving into curatorial work about seven years ago.

CP: How do women’s craft and work connect to your personal story and background?

HJ:  I have always had strong women mentors – from my mother and sisters to teachers, and have spent most of my professional life in women-led organizations. The idea of craft and how it connects to these women and my history wasn’t in my consciousness until I started working at the Craft & Folk Art Museum, now Craft Contemporary. Over the years, I gained an understanding of craft and how the passage of knowledge between generations of women was central to the development of numerous craft practices. I see parallels between those women’s traditions and my experiences of learning from and being supported by the woman in my life.

CP: As an artist and curator, what tools do you find helpful to use from one practice to another when creating art or an exhibition? 

HJ: The most essential tool for me has been an increasing ability to trust myself and others, and the full potential of the creative, collaborative process. 

The Body, The Object, The Other, installation view, 2020. Courtesy of Craft Contemporary. Photo: Blake Jacobsen.

CP: Challenging preconceived notions about contemporary craft and folk art is an essential objective for you as a curator. From your perspective, can you talk about how these practices have evolved in art-making and how the vocabulary has changed when we consider craft and folk art?

HJ: From my experience, people often hold incredibly narrow views of what craft and folk art can be. They are seen in strictly historical terms and/or made for functional or cultural reasons devoid of any conceptual complexity. But these forms of expression are contemporary and constantly evolving like any other living art form. Although craft and folk art are more widely exhibited in larger contemporary art contexts, I don’t think the vocabulary and people’s understanding of these terms have widened as quickly. But now is an exciting time. As people are questioning art historical hierarchies, art institutions, and the dominance of the art market more and more, they recognize that craft and folk art and their makers, along with many other art forms and makers, have been marginalized in these structures. People want to learn more about these art forms and their histories.

CP: In the exhibitions you’ve curated at Craft Contemporary, there’s a particular interest in highlighting the artists’ intentions and processes. Can you talk about some of your personal experiences learning from other fellow artists about their craft and art practice?

HJ: One of the best things about my work is developing relationships with other artists, as I am constantly learning from them. A few examples are glass artist Kazuki Takizawa’s journey to understand and accept himself, Gronk’s never-ending commitment to making art on his own terms, and Consuelo Flores’s profound ability to share love and care for people through her works.

CP: How close do you work with artists and other museum staff when creating this visual experience for audiences?

HJ: The exhibition development and design processes are very collaborative, especially for solo artist exhibitions where the museum staff and I are there to support the artist in realizing their vision for the show. Group exhibitions are slightly different since all the artists’ distinct pieces must come together to illustrate the exhibition’s theme. I and my fellow staff members ask artists if they visualize their works in specific ways, have preferences for the works’ display, or if they would like to review how their work is installed. I try to ensure that each artist is involved as much as they want.

Lezley Saar: Diorama Drama, installation view, 2022. Courtesy of Craft Contemporary. Photo: Josh Schaedel.

CP: In the past, you’ve collaborated with other curators for exhibitions and programs at Craft Contemporary. Who are the curators whose work inspires you?

HJ: I’ve had the good fortune to work with Alma Ruiz, Anu Vikram, and jill moniz on several projects at Craft Contemporary, and I greatly admire their respective curatorial practices and how they work with artists. I also admire the work of Frida Cano, who is currently at 18th Street Arts Center, and Irene Georgia Tsatsos at the Armory Center for the Arts.

CP: What curatorial and/or artistic projects are you currently working on? 

HJ: Currently, I am planning next year’s programming for the Art Galleries at Cal State, Northridge, which will focus on artists who have connections with the University and/or that part of Los Angeles. I am also working with Linda Sibio on a solo exhibition of her work that will be presented at Craft Contemporary this fall.

CP: What’s your favorite instrument of memory?

HJ: Artworks because they hold past, present, and future memories all at once. They become vessels for the memories of their makers and for the memories they spur in the many people who will interact with them over the years.

CP: Thank you, Holly!

Image left: Cathy Cooper: Dramatis Personae, installation view, 2021. Courtesy of Craft Contemporary. Photo Marc Walker / Dollhouse.

Holly Jerger (she/her) was just appointed Art Galleries Director at California State University, Northridge. Previously, she was Senior Exhibitions Curator at Craft Contemporary in Los Angeles where she organized numerous exhibitions including solo presentations of Lezley Saar, Kay Sekimachi, Gronk, and Diedrick Brackens, as  well  as  the  surveys: Wayfinding, The Body, The Object, The Other and Chapters: Book Arts in Southern California. She holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts from Ball State University, Indiana, and a Master of Fine Arts from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, where she also taught. Holly has also served on the boards of the Museum Educators of Southern California and the Los Angeles Printmaking Society.

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