O.C. Museum of Art Names New Curator

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Orange County Museum of Art brought to a close Wednesday a long, arduous search to replace its chief curator and announced that it has filled two other positions.

Beleaguered by a string of top rank departures within the last year, the museum is now poised for a $60-million expansion; it has plans to move to a larger location.

Elizabeth Neilson Armstrong, takes the new chief curator position in April. She has served as senior curator at the Museum of Contemporary Art in La Jolla.

Among Armstrong's exhibitions are "Ultrabaroque: Aspects of Post-Latin American Art," a show that is now touring nationally; and "In the Spirit of Fluxus," a survey of a 1960s utopian art movement that won the International Assn. of Art Critics Award in 1995.

John Crabtree-Ireland has been named the development director and Jennifer Dework Katz is the education and public programs associate.

"The timing of these announcements is unusual. And it's purely circumstantial that all three of these positions are being filled at the same time," OCMA director Naomi Vine said. "I'm absolutely delighted. They are going to bring a new level of excitement and energy to the institution."

The sigh of relief comes after an 18-month search for a curator. Armstrong and the museum have been negotiating since November.

Her duties will include: working closely on all aspects of the exhibitions from programming and education to installation, producing show catalogs, and overseeing the museum's collection. Her title is deputy director of art.

Before working in La Jolla, Armstrong spent 14 years at Walker Art Center in Minneapolis. She holds a master's degree in art history from UC Berkeley. She was attracted to OCMA because she believes it "has shown a strong interest in revitalizing its collection and invigorating its programs."

"The museum seems really focused now, and I feel they're really committed to providing the resources," said Armstrong, 48, who lives in La Jolla but plans to move to Orange County with her family.

Crabtree-Ireland, 30, comes to OCMA from the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles, where he served as associate director of annual and special gifts. A graduate of Georgetown University, he will be responsible for fund-raising.

"I want to help the museum achieve its goals and realize the vision of the board of trustees," said Crabtree-Ireland, who starts Feb. 26. He too will move to Orange County or Long Beach from Hancock Park.

Education coordinator Katz, a New Jersey native, holds a master's in art history and a certificate in museum studies from Rutgers University. She is responsible for planning the public programs offered by OCMA's education department and will report to Elena S. Arrojo, the museum's education director.

She previously served as curatorial consultant to a photo gallery in Santa Monica. Museum officials also made two other announcements Wednesday. OCMA is the recipient of the Walter B. Gerken community service award from the Pacific Life Foundation, which carries a $15,000 donation. And OCMA has received a donation of 25 works of contemporary art from Pasadena collector David Hundley.

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