Russell Ferguson, deputy director of exhibitions and programs and chief curator at the UCLA Hammer Museum, has agreed to become chairman of the university’s art department.
The appointment, which requires approval by the university and chancellor, is likely to be confirmed near the beginning of 2007, allowing Ferguson to assume the new role in the spring term. He will retain the title adjunct curator at the Hammer.
“The department is widely considered to be one of the best in the world,” says Ferguson, a native of Glasgow, Scotland, “so I’m not coming in planning to make radical changes.”
Ferguson, who arrived from Los Angeles’ Museum of Contemporary Art in 2001, has organized one-man shows on such artists as musician / sculptor Christian Marclay and photographer Jeff Wall, as well as themed exhibitions such as 2004’s “The Undiscovered Country,” on the long-predicted death of painting. He co-curated the museum’s retrospective of photographer Wolfgang Tillmans, which continues through Jan. 7.
“For me it’s an opportunity to change the register, a little bit, of what I do,” Ferguson says. “My favorite thing about being a curator is working directly with artists. And the chance to work with young artists, through teaching, is something I very much look forward to. I see a continuity to my work at the museum and shifting to the art department.”
If ratified, Ferguson will replace acting chairman Jim Welling, who replaced Barbara Drucker, who served as chairwoman from 2000 until earlier this month. Drucker will remain on the faculty. At the Hammer, the plan is for senior curator Gary Garrels to succeed Ferguson as deputy director and chief curator, creating an opening for a curator.
“One of the things that’s great about Russell, beside the critical intelligence, is that the artists understand he’s not looking down their nose at them,” says Christopher Waterman, dean of the UCLA School of the Arts and Architecture. “He understands the practice and respects the practitioners.”
Waterman praised Ferguson’s “personal warmth and ability to talk to all kinds of people. Not every brilliant scholar is a brilliant communicator. He wants to bring people to the world of art. We’re a public institution and we’re into reaching people.”
Ferguson expects to continue to curate exhibitions at the Hammer.