How I Got My Art Job: Anne Ellegood on How She Went From Counseling at a Women’s Clinic to Curating at the Hammer Museum
And how she dealt with the controversy surrounding the Jimmie Durham show.
From fabricators to mummy conservators to private collection managers, the art world is full of fascinating jobs you may not have realized even existed. In artnet News’s column “My Art Job,” we delve into these enviable art-world occupations, asking insiders to share their career path and advice for others who wish to follow in their footsteps.
This week, we spoke with Anne Ellegood, the senior curator at the Hammer Museum at UCLA.
Education: My undergraduate degree is in women’s studies from the University of Colorado, Boulder. My graduate degree is from the Bard Center for Curatorial Studies in Annandale-on-Hudson, New York.
How I got the job I have now: I was working at the Hirshhorn in Washington, DC. I wasn’t really looking to leave, but Annie Philbin, the Hammer’s director, reached out to me. I grew up in Portland and I was excited about the possibility of coming back to the West Coast after being on the East Coast for many years. And I loved the Hammer.
You know when you feel an affinity with certain institutions? Their commitment to exploring ideas beyond art and to thinking about the role of art in other aspects of our lives, such as social justice and political debate, really resonated with me. Now I’ve been here eight years!
How I got my start in the art world: My first job out of grad school was at the New Museum in New York City. Then I worked for [collector] Peter Norton for two years as his New York-based curator. I really wanted to go back to a museum, so I went to the Hirshhorn.
What I did before working in art: Women’s studies is one of those liberal arts degrees where you’re like, “What are you going to do with this?” I realized my commitment to women’s reproductive rights was something I wanted to focus on. Before attending grad school I worked in a woman’s reproductive health clinic for a number of years, advocating for women and counseling them on their options.
Then, coincidentally, I met an independent curator, and started working with her on a freelance basis as a curatorial assistant. I had always been really involved in the arts, and I realized I missed having the them in my life more fully. I started to feel that curatorial practice was a space where I could work in support of art and artists and have my own creative outlet.
It was almost like I had two lives. There was this moment in my life where I had to make a choice. There was an opportunity for a promotion at the clinic. That’s when I realized I wanted to go to graduate school for curatorial practice and art history.
My commitment to feminist issues has come along with me into my curatorial practice, and my advocacy work at the clinic actually translated really well, in terms of how I work with artists.
On dealing with controversy: My Jimmie Durham show is an exhibition I had been wanting to do for many years. It took years of getting to know the artist before he agreed to do it. It’s been incredibly rewarding and challenging at the same time.
I knew, of course, that people had questioned Jimmie Durham’s Cherokee background in the past. When it came up, I would freely discuss it with people. I tried to understand the issues as best I could, and to understand what Jimmy’s position is on the subject.
It’s an incredible opportunity to discuss and think about issues that are nuanced, heartfelt, and complex.
My favorite part of the job: Working closely with artists and talking through ideas about how to create opportunities to realize their work. I love thinking about how to present an artist’s work and how to build programming around it.
What my typical day looks like: It’s different depending on what I’m working on. Right now I’m working simultaneously on two different projects. Our Jimmie Durham exhibition is touring, which is a lot of coordinating and working with the other institutions. The show is done but it’s a matter of thinking through each new context.
At the same time I’m working on our next “Made in LA” biennial. We’re doing lots of research, tons of studio visits. They couldn’t be more different: a retrospective with 45 years of an artist’s work, and then a big group show where you’re putting all these artists together but not really for any reason except that they work and live in LA. Biennials are kind of weird animals.
My day today involved a lot of meetings. I just had a preliminary meeting with our head designer to start thinking about the floor plan for “Made in LA.” I had a phone meeting with the curators of the Whitney in New York about how the Jimmie Durham installation is going. [The show opened November 3.] I had a meeting with Annie Philbin and our chief curator Connie Butler about proposals for future project exhibitions. Then I met with the co-chairs of our artist council about the agenda items for our upcoming artist council meeting—a meeting about a meeting, which I hate to admit is not that uncommon!
Percentage of the day I spend sending emails: It really depends on the day, but suffice to say I send a lot of emails and I get a lot of emails. Too many.
My most influential mentor: Marcia Tucker was my first mentor once I decided to become a curator. I learned so much from her. I learned to take risks in terms of curatorial methodologies and how to think about how your ideas might be formulated into an exhibition. She taught me to have incredible respect for artists, and how to communicate with them about their work.
Advice for those who want a job like mine: Spend a lot of time with artists. Spend time alone with art. Find a balance between instinct and knowledge—and learn to be patient.
One thing I wish I could tell my 22-year-old self: Trust yourself. Don’t over analyze.
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