The Art World at Home: Curator Dexter Wimberly Is Planning a Residency in Japan and Listening to Podcasts About Watches

The Art World Conference founder details how he came up with the residency program after getting unexpectedly stranded in Japan.

Dexter Wimberly. Photo: Herman L. Jean-Noël Neglakay Productions LLC.

The art world is slowly coming out of lockdown, but many decision-makers and creatives are still staying close to home. In this series, we check in with curators, historians, and other art-world professionals to get a peek into their day-to-day.

Curator and art entrepreneur Dexter Wimberly is resettling into life in the US after spending an unexpected three months in Hayama, Japan, where he and his family went to visit his wife’s relatives just as the world went into lockdown. Inspired by the stay, he is now launching a new residency program in the seaside Japanese town, which is home to the first public Modern art museum in the country, and 12th-century Morito and Moriyama shrines.

We spoke to Dexter about the realities of planning a residency program, getting business insights from YouTube, and his guilty pleasure for watches.

Where are you, and what are you working on right now?

After being unable to return from Hayama for three months due to the pandemic, my family and I are finally back home in New Jersey. Our original trip was scheduled for four weeks, but our flight [home] was repeatedly canceled.

One of the great things that came out of our prolonged stay, besides spending time with my extended family, was that I was inspired to launch a new artist residency in Hayama that will welcome its first artists in summer 2021.

Hayama is a tranquil and idyllic Japanese town located on the Pacific coast. It’s about a one-hour train ride from Tokyo. It’s where my wife was born. We’ve visited every year since 2012. It’s magical, and I can’t wait to share the experience with more people.

Walk us through the when, where, and how of your approach to this project on a regular day.

Everything had to be created from scratch. This includes securing housing for the incoming 2021 artists at a hotel, Ami Hayama, and partnering with KOKI Arts gallery in Tokyo for the artist-in-residence exhibition.

There’s also the day-to-day administrative work that includes designing the residency’s website, creating the online application, and coordinating the selection committee.

I have a wife, four children, and a dog, and I’m working from home indefinitely, so it goes without saying that it’s hard to find peace and quiet in my house. At night, I make a list of my goals for the next day so that I wake up with a plan. I get up early, around 6 a.m. if I’m well rested, and immediately get to work.

Hayama, Japan. Photo courtesy of Dexter Wimberly.

Hayama, Japan. Photo courtesy of Dexter Wimberly.

What is bothering you right now (other than the project above and having to deal with these questions)?

Where do I begin? When we left for Japan on March 1, there was a looming sense that the coronavirus was going to be a problem in the US, but I had no idea how quickly it would spread or how deadly it would become. I know I’m not alone in that. Watching our country’s leadership mismanage a public health crisis and politicize our safety is incredibly angering and disappointing to me, especially when we can see examples of better leadership in other countries. Just when I thought we might begin to see some hope, the police murders of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, among many other racially motivated killings, ignited the world in protest. I watched this all unfold 6,000 miles away from home. It was and is heartbreaking. If you’re a Black person in America, none of it comes as a surprise to you.

What was the last thing that made you laugh out loud?

I recently came across a Richard Pryor interview from 40 years ago on YouTube wherein he talks about the connections between racism and capitalism. I know that doesn’t sound funny, but it’s explained in a way that only Richard Pryor can! It’s worth a few minutes of your time.

Are there any movies, music, podcasts, publications, or works of art that have made a big impact on you recently? 

I’m an entrepreneur at heart, so I devour any and all information that might give me insight into better ways to manage my own businesses. A few months ago, I started watching a video series, called “Startup / Company Forensics,” also on YouTube.

These videos are produced by Slidebean and are basically 10- to 15-minute episodes about the spectacular rise and fall of well-known and little-known companies. I find them to be very entertaining. One of my favorites is “How Tom Cruise Killed MoviePass.”

Wimberly at home. Photo courtesy Dexter Wimberly.

What is your favorite part of your house and why?

I have one room in my house that I consider my space. It’s really a living room turned office. I have art, books, magazines, and a very comfortable sofa. Because I have such a large family, with several small children, I needed a place where I can put something down and know that the next day it will still be where I left it. It’s also a great place for my daily Zoom calls. It makes me look smart!

What’s your favorite work of art in the house and why? 

As a curator, I have a very intimate relationship with art. However, at home I try not to be so attached to the works I own. A painting that I love is Before Dark (2014) by French-American artist Jérôme Lagarrigue. It’s hung at the entrance of my house, like a sentinel, forever watching.

Jérôme Lagarrigue, <i>Before Dark</i> (2014). Photo courtesy of Dexter Wimberly.

Jérôme Lagarrigue, Before Dark (2014). Photo courtesy of Dexter Wimberly.

Are there any causes you support that you would like to share? 

I am ferociously passionate about financial literacy. People need to know how to manage their money. Two years ago, I founded Art World Conference, a company dedicated to empowering artists and arts professionals. We believe true equality in the art world is only possible when people have access to financial information and resources pertaining to personal and professional sustainability. In addition to planning our next conference, we’ve been offering a series of free online workshops since April.

What is your guilty pleasure?

I love watches. I research them, I read about them, I watch videos and listen to podcasts about them. Every Monday, I listen into HODINKEE Radio, a weekly podcast for vintage and modern watch enthusiasts. I haven’t missed a single episode in two years.

Wimberly’s fig-butter snack plate. Photo courtesy of Dexter Wimberly.

What’s going on in the kitchen these days? Any projects? And triumphs or tragedies? 

While in Japan, I ate more sushi than you can imagine! Now that I’m back home, I’m eating lots of other types of food. Somehow, I’ve gotten hooked on yellow and red bell peppers. As a regular snack, I’ve been slicing them up and eating them with spicy hummus. I’ll eat two entire bell peppers in one sitting like they’re apples.

I’ve also been eating lots of Trader Joe’s fig butter on multigrain crackers with Pecorino Romano, a hard, salty Italian cheese. It’s RIDICULOUSLY DELICIOUS! My go-to summer cocktail is a good Negroni or Gobelsburg Cistercien Rosé from Austria. Since I won’t be traveling for the next few months, I’ve been trying to bring different tastes of the world into my kitchen.

Which two fellow art-world people, living or dead, would you like to convene for dinner, and why? 

It would be fun to have dinner with anyone right now! But seriously, I would love to have dinner with curators Shannon R. Stratton and Larry Ossei-Mensah, as well as with painter Margaret Bowland. All are dear friends and I’ve never had a bad meal with any of them. If we’re talking fantasies, I’d say British filmmaker and video artist Steve McQueen. I think he’s fascinating!

Bonus: Where would you want the dinner to be?

I’d choose Keens Steakhouse in Manhattan. I really need some old-school New York flavor.

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