eldo welcomes new partner, Hesse McGraw

Posted on June 22nd, 2017 at 10:19 pm by


el dorado is very pleased to announce the expansion of its leadership structure and, in August, will welcome Hesse McGraw as a partner. Through this newly created role, el dorado is integrating a curatorial and writing practice into the heart of the firm to intensify its work at the intersection of architecture, contemporary art, and cultural impact. Bringing Hesse’s specific curatorial leadership together with our architecture and urban design practice signals el dorado’s collective ambition to invent a practice model that animates our internal creative process and unlocks the ecstatic potential of each project and team.

By taking a uniquely curatorial approach to process, el dorado’s new practice model will bridge leading-edge urban design, artist collaborations, architecture, academic research, and direct community engagement to create shared ownership in the heart and soul of places.

For the past decade, Hesse has redefined the role of a curator. He has stepped outside the walls of the gallery to activate the city and supported artists as they engage intractable problems at a global scale — and he does so with infectious optimism. The range of his curatorial expertise and fearless approach will expand the growing scope and reach of el dorado’s practice.

Most recently serving as Vice President for Exhibitions and Public Programs at San Francisco Art Institute (2013-present) — and previously as Chief Curator at Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts, Omaha, Nebraska (2008 – 2013); Associate Director at Max Protetch, New York (2005 – 2007); and as Founding Director and Curator of Paragraph (2002 – 2005) — his curatorial practice and arts organization leadership are acclaimed for shifting organizations into springboards that strengthen the agency of artists across diverse cultural contexts. Here is a sampling of Hesse’s recent curatorial work:

Michael Jones McKean’s public artwork The Rainbow (2012 – ongoing). One can imagine that the very first ‘public artwork’ experienced by humans was a rainbow: a magical, ephemeral arch—appearing out of the perfect alchemy of water and sunlight, and then just as suddenly, vanishing. Michael Jones McKean’s The Rainbow re-creates this out-of-time visual event as a bold public artwork. The Rainbow models a new notion of public art that has the capacity to fundamentally transform the infrastructure of its site, even as it captures the public imagination and advances popular understanding of the critical challenges facing access to water.

The Rainbow was presented at the Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts in 2012 and is currently in development at a vastly greater, civic scale in San Francisco through a partnership between McKean, San Francisco Art Institute, Fort Mason Center for Arts and Culture, and Carollo Engineers.


Michael Jones McKean: The Rainbow (2012), Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts, Omaha, Nebraska

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The Rainbow turned the Bemis Center building into a rainwater catchment system.

Mel Ziegler’s Flag Exchange (2011-2016). In an act of sly and generous alchemy, artist Mel Ziegler journeyed through all 50 United States between 2011 and 2016 and exchanged distressed American flags flying at civic and private locations—city halls, post offices, hospitals, homes, and schools—for new flags. The 50 decayed flags form a work, Flag Exchange, which spans the geography of our union, and represents the spectrum of our allegiance.

Ziegler’s work is the catalyst for A Living Thing, an exhibition and public program series that seeks to create space for common ground within our increasingly fractured civil discourse. Throughout its run, A Living Thing offers a sanctuary for conversations, performances, debate, and acts of solidarity and resistance—through an open mic during all gallery hours, and an open call to students, artists, activists, citizens, residents, visitors, and others that wish to contribute to the life represented by the flag. Flag Exchange offers a powerful reminder that artists do new and vital things for our public life, even when nothing else works.


Mel Ziegler: Flag Exchange, Nebraska

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A Living Thing at San Francisco Art Institute

Theaster Gates’ and Rebuild Foundation, Carver Bank (2012 – 2016). Theaster Gates is a Chicago-based artist, cultural planner, and performer known for work that directly engages issues of race, class, and place with an uncommon generosity and sense of inclusion. With projects spanning performance, urban interventions, development, social experiments, and installation, Gates “drives the wedge” into potentially divisive subjects with a welcoming throw of grace. Gates has said that his work begins with his “right to re-envision place … not just as an art project, but as a way of living.”

Launched in the summer 2012, the renovation of Carver Bank — through a partnership between Gates, Rebuild Foundation, Bemis Center, and the City of Omaha — restored the first African-American owned bank in Nebraska to a space of public participation and cultural adventure, designed to serve as a hub for the creative and public life of its neighborhood and community. Carver Bank created new exhibition and performance space, artist-in-residence studios, Big Mama’s Sandwich Shop, as well as a transformed exterior landscape. Carver Bank presented regular exhibitions, events, and workshops driven by artists and community partners — all seeking to build a space of “urban ecstasy.”

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Carver Bank and Big Mama’s Sandwich Shop.


Dereck Higgins performance at Carver Bank

Jill Magid’s The Proposal (2014 – ongoing). The Proposal presents a climactic moment within artist Jill Magid’s extended, multimedia artwork, The Barragán Archives, which examines the legacy of Mexican architect and Pritzker Prize-winner Luis Barragán (1902–1988). With this work, Magid asks, “What happens to an artist’s legacy when it is owned by a corporation and subject to a country’s laws where none of his architecture exists? Who can access it? Who can’t?”

In 1995, Barragán’s professional archive, including the rights to his name, work and all photographs taken of it, was purchased by the Chairman of the Swiss furniture company Vitra, allegedly as a gift for his fiancé, Federica Zanco, who serves as Director of the Barragan Foundation. For the last 20 years, the archive has been publicly inaccessible, housed in a bunker at Vitra corporate headquarters. Through the public exhibition of The Proposal, Magid presented Zanco with the gift of a two-carat diamond engagement ring created from the cremated remains of Barragán’s body, in exchange for the return of his archive to public access Mexico.

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Jill Magid: The Proposal


The Proposal

Hesse is no stranger to el dorado. We’ve enjoyed an unbroken dialogue with him about art, design, and cultural criticism for the past 13 years, spanning back to the opening of el dorado designed FLEX storage systems in 2004. Hesse, el dorado, and artist James Woodfill collaborated to curate Moving In Moving Out, a site-specific contemporary art installation within pre-manufactured storage units comprising the project. Moving In Moving Out was published in Metropolis Magazine and received international acclaim, winning an award for “Environments” in ID Magazine’s 2005 Annual Design Review. More recently, Hesse and el dorado have been working on a cross-disciplinary team led by Calgary-based art practice Sans façon to create a Phase II Public Art Plan for The City of Calgary’s Utility and Environmental Protection Department. Our collective vision seeks, through innovative art commissioning, to render the City’s hidden infrastructure emotionally visible.

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Moving In Moving Out, a site-specific exhibition in response to the building and its context.

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Planning meetings and lab visits for the UEP Phase II Public Art Plan, with Sans façon and The City of Calgary.

For its first 20 years, el dorado has built a practice around our emphatic belief in artists and the vital role they play in our cities. We are thrilled to welcome Hesse and his family back to Kansas City and thrilled to welcome Hesse on board as a partner to deepen the possibilities of what it means to be a contemporary architecture firm. We welcome the catalytic questions Hesse will bring to our project teams, and to our clients. Most of all, we look forward to chasing big ideas and finding joy in the unknown!

See a full press release here.


Credit: Whoop Dee Doo in Sean R. Ward’s A Pre-Conscious Space at Bemis Center, Omaha