Man in Search of Time  
Broad ART Museum Director Michael Rush navigates a new passage

Michael Rush had to leave the room. It was past 7 p.m., and somewhere a potential six-figure donor to the Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum was ordering drinks, maybe tapping a foot.

But the museum’s founding director couldn’t pull himself from the art.  “I have to stop. Wait. I have to show you this,” he wavered while showing slides to a group of aspiring museum docents at MSU last month.

He flashed a haunting sepia image of the steps of the New York Public Library, overlaid with shadows of ghost patrons. It was a frame from video artist Jim Campbell’s “Library,” one of the works Rush chose for the Broad Museum’s opening exhibit, “In Search of Time.”  “This one is so beautiful,” he said.

Before that, he showed the group a frame from Israel-born Michal Rovner’s apocalyptic “Oil Fields of Kazakhstan.” The gorgeous desolation froze him in place.  “Witnessing this work of art for the first time, I felt like I was present at the beginning and the end of the world,” he said.

Rush is a curator, writer, actor, teacher, scholar and now the founding director of a contemporary art museum, but he still looks like he’s searching for an unseen door. The space-time continuum just isn’t big enough to contain his enthusiasms. In one classroom hour, he barely poked a pinhole into one of his favorite worlds, video art, as a kind of performance, a latter-day paintbrush, a vehicle for grass-roots experimentation and spatial-temporal taffy. Rush’s book, “Video Art,” is the standard reference on the medium.

He paused in front of the class to study a frame from one of his favorite works, “Shadow Piece,” by David Claerbout. In the video, shot in stark black and white, people approach the lobby of a building but can’t get inside. The shadows in the lobby don’t move, implying that time doesn’t flow inside the doors. The doors are locked. The people outside are stuck in the stream of time. Maybe one of them is late for a meeting with a donor.

“It’s so hard to describe,” Rush said. “You should see this physically. It’s totally mind-blowing.”

Rush finally left the room, but flew back 40 seconds later, grabbed an object from the lectern, and rushed back out again.

He had forgotten his watch.  Rush’s favorite verb is “navigate.” He favors art, sculpture and exhibitions that invite viewers to maneuver their bodies in an interactive dance with the art. A 2006 show at Brandeis University’s Rose Art Museum, where Rush was director from 2005 until 2009, blended performance and surveillance videos to blur the line between creator, viewer and voyeur.

“I’m interested in expanding the notion of what a contemporary exhibit means,” he said.  For a 2008 Rose Museum exhibit, he turned the lights off, strewed the floor with (artificial) leaves and left visitors to navigate dream canvases by Salvador Dali and other surrealists with a flashlight.

He promised a kinetic environment at the Broad.

“Yes, there will be some artworks hung on the walls,” he said, almost grudgingly. “But there will be lots of other artworks through which you will navigate, or you will watch their moving image, or stand back and take it in from many perspectives.”

Where the Broad Museum is concerned, Rush will favor art that comes from somewhere out in the world, rather than another gallery.

“You’ll be seeing artists who are on their way, artists we hope to launch, artists who you’re not seeing full page ads for in ArtForum — as yet,” he said. “I’m interested in going into back alleys, into countries that have artists that have not gotten into biennials.”

With a zigzag resume, Rush was an unorthodox choice for director. The twists and turns that brought him to MSU border on the surreal, but he’s happy to give you a flashlight and help you navigate.

“I’ve always tried to put the threads together myself,” he said.

His eyes flash with Jesuitical fire when he proselytizes the glories of art. In the 1970s, he was a Jesuit priest. He has bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the Jesuit College of Arts and Letters at St. Louis University.

“I knew about the Jesuits’ connections to the Baroque, Jesuit Baroque churches and so forth,” he said. “The Jesuits have a very strong history with the visual arts, and they are fundamentally educators. I imbibed that in my 15-year experience.”

After Rush left the Jesuit order, he got a doctorate in psychology from Harvard and gravitated to theater. In the 1980s, he dabbled in TV, popping up in roles in  “Law and Order” and “Spenser: For Hire.”

He came to the visual arts through the back door of an experimental theater in New York called La MaMa, an offshoot of influential avant-garde playwright and director Robert Wilson’s company.

Several of Wilson’s people were working at La MaMa. “We started creating works together, and they were very visually oriented,” Rush said. “They opened up a whole new world of the visual arts to me.”

Rush devoured Wilson’s book “The Theater of Images” and started reading intensely about visual art.  When he learned that playwright Samuel Beckett and modern painter Jasper Johns did a book together, he got permission from the Beckett estate, and from Johns himself, to adapt it to theater.

“It was a real highlight of my time in the theater,” he said.  Rush also created pieces based on the work of Picasso, Duchamp and Jasper Johns.  He entered a new phase of life, writing about art for Art in America, Bookforum, The New York Times and other publications. The museum world started to beckon.

“It seemed that I was heading in this direction,” he said. “The threads, to me, are pretty clear.”  He seldom misses a chance to point out the threads that link theater to visual art. Painting and performance art seem like two different worlds to a lot of people, but Rush finds performance art in Old Master paintings (Mona Lisa smiling for Da Vinci) and painterly beauty in modern works like Rovner’s oil fields video.

At Rose, Rush romped through a rich collection full of Picassos, de Koonings, Lichtensteins and other treasures.   Between Rose and the Broad appointment, Rush guest curated several exhibits, including a wild show at MIT called “Virtuoso Illusion: Cross-Dressing and the New Media Avant Garde.”

The Broad Museum’s low-slung, anti-ivory-tower design, with teasing see-through fins and entrances at both ends to vacuum people inside, suits Rush’s philosophy that art should be accessible to all.

“I don’t come from some exclusivist thing where people go behind a wall and enjoy it,” he said. “I like the popular.”

By popular, Rush doesn’t mean tallying up auction figures or sales charts.

“I mean presenting things that I feel, and we feel, are important and explaining why.”  Rush knows that contemporary art is scary to many people.

From 2000 to 2004, he was the first director of the Palm Beach Institute of Contemporary Art.

“It’s not nearly as grand as the Broad building, but it was a new museum that opened with a bang,” he said. “This was also a community that had not had a lot of familiarity with the contemporary, and so our task was clearly to make the place as welcoming as possible.”

His “Road to Broad” talks at MSU avoided buzzwords and hierarchies. He and Curator Alison Gass will record informal audio guides for every Broad Museum exhibit.

“I talk in real terms, not in gobbledygook,” he said. “I really believe that contemporary art has a lot to say to a broad spectrum of people.”

He loves to remind people that all art was once contemporary and much of it was reviled in its day, from Michelangelo’s naughty Sistine Chapel nudes to Van Gogh’s fierce brushstrokes.

But he doesn’t shy from dropping what he calls “the ‘b’ word.”  “I’m totally into beauty,” he said. “But what I mean by beauty is a pretty expansive idea. I can find a neon sculpture by Joseph Kosuth with quotes from Freud and Wittgenstein beautiful. They really turn me on.”

Just in case your notion of beauty remains unexpanded, Rush is ready, if not eager, to explain for the umpteenth time why you (or your kid) couldn’t have painted this mess, or shot this aluminum sheet with a gun.

“I love dealing with those comments,” he said. “It gets into the whole notion of what an artist is.”

He’s sympathetic to a viewer who takes in one of Cy Twombly’s blackboard scribbles and says, “This looks like kindergarten.” 

“Nobody’s wrong,” Rush said. But while welcoming any response, Rush holds to his most oft-repeated mantra.

“Art is anything an artist says it is,” Rush said. “That’s my definition of art. I don’t think it need be any more complex than that. The crucible comes when you decide what is good art.”

Now that he’s pegged in the art world as a museum director, Rush worries more than ever about getting caught up in “the system.” He mistrusts the curatorial consensus on what gets shown and showered with prizes.

“Every time I sit on a jury, or for a grant, people generally agree, for better or worse,” he said. “Is that because we’re brainwashed and we’re looking at the same things all the time and we just feed on each other, or is there something to it?”

He can’t help wondering what would happen if Marcel Duchamp came along again and presented the equivalent of his famous “ready-made” urinal to a contemporary group exhibition.

“Would we have the foresight to go with it — something that radically, radically altered the course of art?” he mused. “I keep hoping for those radical course changes, but would I recognize them if they came along? I don’t know."

Making a mess in the museum
Performance curator Dan Hirsch and the 'delirious flooding of the senses'

Say you’re flipping through the vinyl at East Lansing’s eclectic music store, Flat, Black & Circular. Suddenly, a ray of sunshine strikes the steel-clad Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum, outside the window on the other side of Grand River Avenue. While you’re blinking, the guy next to you reaches over and grabs the LP you wanted.

It’s a dirty trick, but let it go. That guy could be Dan Hirsch, the Broad Museum’s curator of performances and programs, on his lunch hour.

“It’s really dangerous,” Hirsch said. “I’ve bought a lot of vinyl since I came here.”

Your loss will be the art world’s gain. Whatever goes into Hirsch’s head will probably come out in some mind-bending form at the Broad. Hirsch’s job is to blend fresh brews of music, film, visual art, dance and who knows what else, both inside and outside the museum’s steel skin.

We’re not talking about a harpist in the foyer next to the wine and cheese.

Trance, techno, gospel, hip-hop, avant-garde jazz and classical, American roots music, bubu music from Sierra Leone braided with indie rock — Hirsch’s aural palette is as wide as the world and growing every day.

“Having performances in the galleries, things that aren’t on the walls, gives us the opportunity to challenge what the museum can be by making a mess in the museum, whether it’s an aesthetic mess or otherwise,” Hirsch said.

Outside the museum, Hirsch wants to bring more challenging and off-the-beaten-track concerts to campus, along with dance, art films and multimedia productions, using standard venues and unexpected “pop-up” locations.

“The museum itself isn’t a collection of boxes that things fit neatly into,” Hirsch explained. “Things bleed into each other, spatially and acoustically, and psychologically.”

At Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts, Emerson College and other institutions, Hirsch ran amuck putting music and dance into venues all over Boston. He’s booked a wide variety of artists, from indie bands Dirty Projectors and The Books to avant-garde jazz legend Joe McPhee.

Many of his concerts had “strong visual elements” such as film projections and experimental videos, but the Broad gig gives him a wide-open platform.

“Most of the things I’ve presented have been at fairly traditional venues, but this is a whole different setup,” he said. “It’s really freeing.”

Hirsch has been immersed in music since he was a zygote. (His mother played autoharp on her belly while she was pregnant.) His grandmother was a classical pianist, his uncle is a bluegrass musician and his brother was a jazz and blues DJ in college.

When he was young, his parents took him to almost every cool musical happening in greater Boston.

One of his earliest concert memories was seeing Odetta, the singer and songwriter often called the voice of the civil rights movement.

“I was very young, and it was such a powerful experience,” he said.

Years later, shortly before Odetta died in 2008, Hirsch brought her to Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts to perform.

“I told her, ‘You were the first concert I ever saw.’ It was like coming full circle.”

Hirsch felt his first big blur of life, art and music in middle school, when his parents took him to see the ecstatic Pakistani singer Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, a practitioner of devotional, trance-inducing qawwali music.

“This was not a polite, sitting down crossing your hands appreciation,” he said. “From the very beginning, everyone was up, dancing in their seats, in the aisles, waving fabric from the balcony — this delirious flooding of the senses,” he recalled.

Shortly after, he got a similar high from the Master Musicians of Jajouka at Harvard’s Sanders Theatre, where he later presented concerts as director of music programs at World Music/CRASHarts.

“It was so otherworldly that there was no frame of reference I could use to ground myself,” he said.

In rock, Sonic Youth was another early revelation.

“There’s at least one point in all their shows, this instrumental moment of crystallization, this wall of sound that emerges,” Hirsch said.

For Hirsch, these experiences had one thing in common: “the moment where there ceases to be a gulf between the audience and performer and it’s like being inside the sound.”

Lansing people are used to driving out of town for cutting-edge art, film and music, but Hirsch is not. Since he moved here in March, he’s gotten the lay of the land and made the rounds of Grand Rapids, Ann Arbor (for events like the Ann Arbor Film Festival and Edgefest, the avant-garde jazz blowout) and Detroit. It’s a very different geography than Boston, where everything is about a 15-minute subway ride apart.

“I’m still getting my road legs,” he said. “I haven’t driven a car in about 12 years.”  More to the point, Hirsch and his colleagues are determined to reverse the traffic patterns.

The Broad Without Walls events over the summer were a start. Hirsch spun the discs at a “Dollar-Bin DJ night” in Lansing’s old Chrome Cat building, where a pop-up display of art by Kristin Cammermeyer was in progress. Hirsch also organized a series of festival circuit films in Old Town, including a profile of Marina Abramovid.

“Events happen in unusual spaces here,” Hirsch said, citing the Henry Rollins performance at Cooley Law School last month. “There aren’t as many expectations about where things are supposed to happen.”

Hirsch’s “Summer Dance Party” at the old Mustang Bar in Old Town, with Janka Nabay and the Bubu Gang, was an early sample.

“The city’s eager to have these spaces reactivated,” he said. “I would try to do some of these site-specific things in Boston and there was much more pushback from the city, whereas here people want things to happen.”

He wants to build on the established East Lansing Film Festival and the new Capital City Film Festival by bringing more arthouse and experimental cinema.

“There’s a real opportunity to make an impact culturally and contribute to the film culture here,” he said. “It’s clear there is a hunger for that. I know a lot of people who have to drive to Ann Arbor and Detroit to get their film fix for anything beyond the multiplexes.”

Wherever he goes, Hirsch searches for the musician or artist that works without fanfare, the lone experimenter or poet.

“There are underground rivers,” he said. “You come across them — some fascinating person doing their thing. They don’t necessarily exist in the traditional framework of the marketplace.”

“If the museum can be a magnet and draw some of these people out and Lansing can see what’s actually been here this whole time, that would be fantastic.”

Hirsch and his colleagues promise a cultural jolt to the region that might be worth a bit of competition at the record store bins.

“I got really lucky last trip to FBC,” he said. Hirsch was ecstatic over snagging “Goodbye, Babylon,” a six-disc set of old-time fire-breathing gospel music on the Dust to Digital label, tucked in a wooden box with the image burned into the cover.

“It’s an art object,” he said “It comes with these beautiful liner notes and images and it’s a labor of love. It’s something I’ve coveted for a long time, and they happened to have it used.”

‘Find things that are red’
Broad Museum curator Alison Gass is an authority, not an authority figure 

Alison Gass is drawn to the hot end of the spectrum. When the first curator of MSU’s Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum was a little girl growing up in Boston, she did some from-the-gut curating at the Museum of Fine Arts.

“My mom and I would play a game: go through the museum and find things that are red,” she said

At 36, Gass gets to rummage through the whole international art world for hot stuff.

“I would like to bring art to the Broad that is potentially life-changing,” she said. “There’s a lot of beauty in the world as well as a lot of trauma, and I want art to reflect the whole experience back at you.”

In a special section in 2010, The New York Times named Gass one of nine American museum curators under 40 to watch in the coming years.

Broad Museum Director Michael Rush called Gass “an art historian who is able to think historically but also can think outside the box.”

“She’s open, she’s fearless, she always has good ideas, and she’s also a great drinking buddy,” Rush said.

At San Francisco’s Museum of Modern Art, Gass curated a New Work series that juggled politically charged images (Luc Tuymans’ stark 9/11 paintings) with grand aesthetic epiphanies (Alyson Shotz’s room-filling webs of prismatic beads) and wild installations (Nikka Rothenburg’s bizarre contorting-body videos).

“Artists are fun to work with,” Gass said. “They live in a world where they’re living their passion, doing every day what they most want to be doing. There’s something so inspirational about that.”

In January 2012, Gass swapped the coastal art scene for a new home in East Lansing with, her husband, Alec Hathaway, and their two kids, 2-year-old Millie and 7-month-old Gus, with Riggins the dog and Tex the cat in tow.

The plum Broad gig puts these life adjustments in perspective. The chance to stuff a stunning stainless steel structure designed by Pritzker Prize-winning architect Zaha Hadid with contemporary art is the ultimate professional seduction.

“Contemporary art is about so much more than great paintings or photographs on a wall,” she said. “It’s light and space, technology, environments you can walk through.

“We will present the whole breadth of materials and approaches.”

Gass acknowledged that there might be some truth to the clich that curators are frustrated artists. “I wasn’t fantastic at making art,” she said. “I like to look at it a lot more.”

When she was 10, she fell in love with a painting by impressionist Mary Cassatt. “It had a mom, a little girl and a cat,” she recalled. “It stayed in my room through high school.”

Later, her art tastes shifted from the painterly, colorful “isms” of the 19th century to the more dramatic art revolutions of the 20th and beyond.

“It became, for me, a more interesting way to think about the actual world I lived in,” she said.

Gass earned a bachelor’s degree in art history from Columbia and a master’s in the same subject from New York University. After college, she was hired as an administrative assistant at New York’s Museum of Modern Art.

“Art became my life in New York,” she said.

Right away, she started looking around to see who was having the most fun. “I learned quickly that the most interesting thing going on was with the curators.”

At New York University, she studied under heavyweight curator Robert Storr, now dean of the art school at Yale and a big influence on Gass.

“He was an important figure for me. He stressed listening to what artists were trying to tell you about their work.”

Gass’ contact list of artists, mostly her age or younger, is large and growing. She loves to present razzle-dazzle work like Alyson Shotz’s glass-disc confections but doesn’t shy from political engagement. At the San Francisco museum, she worked with painter Luc Tuymans, whose spare canvases deal with loaded themes like Nazi gas chambers and 9/11. Tuymans’ 9/11 paintings struck a deep chord in Gass, who was studying art history in New York on Sept. 11, 2001.

“They’re actually quite beautiful paintings,” she said. “They looked like smoke billowing out into the street. But it triggers a visual memory of that day.”

Another Gass-curated show was devoted to the video creations of Nikka Rothenburg, wild visual riffs on the politics and rhythms of repetitive labor. “She casts people with unusual bodies — sumo wrestlers, fetishists, and contortionists,” Gass said. “They’re installed in such a way that you enter into them. They’re creepy, unsettling and funny all at once.”

Gass has occasion to use the word “creepy” more than one might expect. While giving an art history talk to prospective Broad Museum docents at MSU a few weeks ago, she barraged the group with images she described as “uncomfortable,” “creepy” and “gross.” The subject was feminist art.

In the 1960s and 70s, women were wresting control of the art world from men and taking ownership of their own bodies after centuries of sitting (and lying) passively for male portraitists.  It took some serious sabotage to derail that phallic Art Train. Gass showed the group strong images of self-mutilation, dildo wielding and other provocations from feminist artists like Yoko Ono, Hannah Wilke, and Judy Chicago.

Gass described the sculpture shown in one of the slides, Louise Bourgeois’ “La Filette,” as “a sort of dirty looking hanging phallus.” She retold one of the classic anecdotes of modern art, describing the day Bourgeois showed up at photographer Robert Mapplethorpe’s studio and told him, “I brought my own cock.”

Many people in the class were in their 60s and 70s — former docents at Kresge Art Museum retooling for the Broad — but the gray heads never flinched and the pens kept moving.

Gass scanned the faces. “Nobody looked horrified. They asked questions, they laughed. They were listening and they got it.”

Gass has the warmth, accessibility and enthusiasm to talk you onto a bed of hot coals before you think twice. She may be an authority, but she’s not an authority figure.  “I’d listen to her talk about a shoebox,” one of the students said afterwards.

“I think if you come with me, you might find these ideas worth considering,” she told the group. “This is existing in the world, and I think you should look at it.”

The maximization of Min
Deputy Director Min Jung Kim builds bridges and sweats details

Liberal arts majors dread the inevitable inquisition from friends and family: “What are you going to do with that?” You can shut them up fast with the story of Min Jung Kim, deputy director of the Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum.

After entering college with “no idea” what she was going to do, Kim soared into the midst of the international art boom of the 1990s. She helped build exhibits and programs for the Guggenheim Foundation from Seoul to New York to Vienna to Russia to Abu Dhabi, working with the world’s greatest architects.

At the Broad Museum, she’s hunkering down to wrestle with the nuts and bolts of putting together a new contemporary art museum from the ground up.

“Whatever Michael Rush and the staff need to fulfill their dreams, I help them implement that, if I have to beg, borrow and steal,” she said.

Kim, 42, has had a lot of pinch-me moments, but the pinchiest came in 1996 when Guggenheim Foundation Director Thomas Krens invited her to Deutsche Bank headquarters in Venice to present a proposal: open a new arm of the Guggenheim Museum in Berlin.

This was not a boutique gallery start-up. Deutsche Bank was moving its headquarters to the newly unified German capital and wanted to create a cultural center there. It was partly Kim’s idea to include a contemporary art museum. Now she had to make the pitch to no less a personage than Deutsche Bank President Hilmar Kopper.  When Kim showed up with her ID at the desk, the wall behind the receptionist moved aside.

“I thought, ‘Wow, this is out of a James Bond movie,’” Kim recalled. Kopper’s predecessor had been assassinated by a car bomb, so security was tight.

Kopper was stone silent during Kim’s presentation — “all stern and German,” Kim recalled. When Kim was done, Kopper looked up and said, “OK, let’s do it.”

Within nine months, Kim helped finish work on the iconic Guggenheim Bilbao with architect Frank Gehry, already in progress, and co-created the Berlin museum from scratch.

“To see that germ come into reality was amazing,” Kim said.

Up to then, Kim thought she wanted to be a museum curator, but those nine months changed her mind. “From that moment on, as much as I respect curators, I loved doing this,” she said.

Born and raised in Seoul, Kim came to the United States to attend Wheaton College in Illinois.

“Liberal arts education did not and currently does not exist in Korea, which is one of the primary reasons I was so excited to come here,” she said.

The liberal arts path unfolded just like the college brochures promise, and then some. Kim took a basic survey course, prehistoric to modern art, in her freshman year. The subject, and the guest professors, changed her life.

“I was transfixed by their passion and enthusiasm,” she said. She called her father in Korea and told him she wanted to major in art history.

There was a long silence at the other end, followed by the inevitable question: “What are you going to do with that?”

“I don’t know  — maybe work for a museum?” she found herself saying. “I said it sort of flippantly.”

Kim went back to Korea after college at her parents’ behest and made the rounds of commercial galleries, but the kind of job she wanted was hard to come by. “I saw all these beautiful young women serving tea,” she said.

She handled art auctions by phone at Sotheby’s Seoul office and came to hate it after three weeks.

“I wasn’t so interested in the commercial aspect of art,” she said.

A museum of antiquities run by the Samsung Foundation offered more interesting work. Kim was snapped up as the youngest hire in the curatorial department. Her flawless English and bridge-building skills soon made her ideal for international projects, but she was itching to go back to school for graduate study.

In classic spy-movie fashion, Samsung pulled her back in to do “one more project.” New York’s Guggenheim Museum, then closed for a major expansion, was putting its best work on tour in an exhibit called “Masterpieces from the Guggenheim.”

As liaison for Samsung, Kim worked with people in every department at the Guggenheim, from curators to publicists, and they were impressed. The Guggenheim’s deputy director asked Kim to come to New York as a curator.

But Kim was again diverted. The Guggenheim Foundation’s Krens met with Kim in New York and offered to make her present at the creation of a new contemporary art universe.

The Guggenheim was about to launch an unprecedented series of international ventures, including a new museum in Spain that would change the way museums are built and programmed around the world. Curating could wait.

“I resisted, but I joined the Guggenheim in fall 1996,” Kim said.

Within three months, she was sharing an office with another brilliant young hotshot, Max Hollein, who now directs three museums in Frankfurt.

The office catchphrase was “the minimization of Max and the maximization of Min.” Neither of them took a weekend off for five years.

For Kim, it was the beginning of “an amazing run” at the Guggenheim. She helped open the Bilbao, the Berlin museum, and two others, both by architect Rem Koolhaas.

Kim’s work took on global scope. As director of content alliances at the Guggenheim, she forged a three-way axis of art with the vast Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia, and Vienna’s Kunsthistorisches Museum. Together, the three museums comprise an encyclopedic collection of world art, from its prehistoric beginnings to last week.

As a result, few people in the art world understand the dynamics, and the potential, of unorthodox partnerships better than Kim.

“It wasn’t easy,” Kim said. “I would have these meetings with the curators from St. Petersburg and Vienna and think, ‘What do I have to talk with these people about? We have nothing in common.’”

But they did, at least once Kim was on the case. She helped develop innovative joint exhibits like “The Classical Tradition,” combining the Guggenheim’s Robert Mapplethorpe photographs with the Hermitage’s 17th century Dutch and Flemish prints.

At the Guggenheim, Kim worked on projects in Brazil, China, Japan, Korea and many other places, negotiating with an A-list of the world’s top architects.

“I had to pinch myself,” she said. “I knew nothing about architecture, but it was an amazing learning opportunity for me.”

A museum complex in Abu Dhabi, in the United Arab Emirates, included a classical arts museum by Jean Nouvel, a contemporary art museum by Zaha Hadid, a maritime museum by Tadao Ando and a performing arts center, also by Hadid.

“We were working on 17 new buildings,” Kim said with a jolly air. “It was fun.”

Now Kim will focus her attention to detail on one building, MSU’s Broad Art Museum.

While Director Michael Rush and Curator Alison Gass mastermind exhibitions and plan out long-range artistic goals, Kim will have their backs. She will oversee exhibitions and collections management, facilities, maintenance, visitor coordination, and a lot of other day-to-day jobs.

It doesn’t sound as glamorous as globe-trotting for the Guggenheim, but Kim doesn’t see it that way.

“I’ve been given some extraordinary opportunities,” she said, “but in some ways, this is the most extraordinary. Here we’re literally starting from scratch.” She pointed out that Bilbao, Berlin, and some of her other projects grew from the Guggenheim, which was originally established in 1937.

“Here, we are establishing, in 2012, a nascent organization. We’re giving birth to ourselves. How extraordinary is that?”