PRINT January 1999

US News

Ann Philbin

If the recent trend in choosing museum directors has been more business, less art, the ARMAND HAMMER MUSEUM in Los Angeles is happily swimming upstream, tapping Ann Philbin, director and chief curator at the Drawing Center in New York, for its top post. Why her, as opposed to, say, the president of a successful snack chip company? Philbin guesses it’s her historical agility in moving between old masters and the cutting edge, as well as the Drawing Center’s track record of successful extracurricular programming. Richard Flood, chief curator at the Walker Art Center, offers a more generous assessment: “When Annie got to the Drawing Center, she turned what had been an interesting place into something really essential. For people in the art world, it became somewhere you had to go—a place where the topic of drawing seemed much larger than before. She is a visionary thinker.”

At the Hammer, Philbin will take on an institutional permanent collection for the first time and the responsibility of developing a new focus in acquisitions. Hesitant to fix the museum’s niche in the LA art world before she unpacks her bags, Philbin anticipates an emphasis on, not surprisingly, drawing, and perhaps establishing a more international venue. But the first item on her agenda will be to take a hard look at a building that can most charitably be described as “problematic” (its exhibition space, for example, is anything but expansive). In doing so, she hopes to carve out a projects room where contemporary art can find a constant home in the museum. Philbin’s presence at the Drawing Center will linger after her January departure. Rather than take her star show (“Drawn: From Artists’ Collections,” cocurated with photographer Jack Shear) with her, she has tentatively slated the exhibition to appear at both the Drawing Center and the Hammer—a lesson in harmonious transition. The show embodies the engagement with artists and objects over concepts that made the Drawing Center the anti–New Museum under Philbin’s direction, and will presumably mark her tenure at the Hammer as well.

Katy Siegel