Commentary: The Hammer just wrapped a major building project. Now, two of its curators are departing

Hammer chief curator Connie Butler leans against a wall
Connie Butler, Hammer chief curator since 2013, has been tapped to become director of MoMA PS 1 in New York.
(Mark Hanauer)

Completion of a major art museum building project is often followed by significant staffing changes. Intensely focused energies have relaxed, the question of “what’s next?” arises, thoughts of career directions emerge.

Such has now happened at the UCLA Hammer Museum, which opened a big, long-aborning building project in late March. Today the museum announced two major departures of senior staff and the arrival of a new curator.

Connie Butler, Hammer chief curator, will leave in September to become director of New York’s PS1, the Museum of Modern Art outpost in a former schoolhouse across the East River in Queens.


Aram Moshayedi, Hammer senior curator, is signing on in June as curator in residence for the Tamayo Museum in Mexico City, home of an energetic art scene.

Pablo José Ramírez, adjunct curator at London’s Tate Modern, will leave to become a Hammer curator in June, joining Erin Christovale, recently promoted at the Westwood museum from associate to full curator.

Reached by telephone, Butler expressed regret about leaving Los Angeles but said the PS1 opportunity just could not be ignored. MoMA reached out to her last fall, she said, but with the Hammer expansion underway the time was not right. MoMA, it appears, was prepared to wait.

“I wasn’t necessarily looking,” Butler said. “But they started a conversation, and I was intrigued.”

One irony: Just as the internationalization of L.A.’s art scene is accelerating, especially with the widely noted influx of artists and galleries from elsewhere into the city, she is heading in the other direction.

The UCLA Hammer Museum has been quietly collecting a trove of contemporary art since 2005. But while gallery space has expanded in the last two decades, none is dedicated to permanent display of these contemporary holdings.

March 27, 2023

“I’m going to bring a little of L.A. to New York,” she remarked, noting that PS1 has long played a feeder role, especially for putting younger artists on MoMA’s radar screen. Her goal is to make the Queens program “essential viewing” while also embedding it more deeply into the local community.


For the Hammer, the curatorial turnover represents an inflection point. Butler, 60, and Moshayedi, 41, have been at the museum for nearly a decade. Both arrived at their desks in July 2013.

As chief curator, Butler brought leadership stability to a post that had seen two predecessors in just five years. Among the solo exhibitions she organized were surveys of the late Italian sculptor Marisa Merz (1926-2019), Conceptual art pioneer Adrian Piper, and Los Angeles artists Andrea Bowers, Paul McCarthy and Lari Pittman. “Witch Hunt,” a 2021 show co-organized with Anne Ellegood at ICA LA, looked at feminist art in the wake of disgraced former President Trump, whose repeated use of the term to excuse his behavior reflected a deep-seated misogyny.

Feminist art history has been among Butler’s curatorial specialties, making her a leader of the genre in the international museum field. As a curator at L.A.’s Museum of Contemporary Art in 2007, she organized the groundbreaking survey “WACK! Art and the Feminist Revolution,” which focused on work produced globally in the 1970s. When she joined the MoMA staff in Manhattan as chief curator of drawings later that year, the show followed her to PS1.

For Butler, the new job will be something of a homecoming. In addition to “WACK!,” she brought a version of the retrospective of the late Los Angeles artist Mike Kelley (1954-2012) from the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, to New York. (She now serves on the board of the Mike Kelley Foundation.) With some 200 examples of the hugely influential artist’s sculptures, drawings, videos and installations, the 2013 extravaganza was the largest exhibition since PS1 opened in 1976. Currently she is working on an exhibition of Black abstraction, slated for 2025 at the Hammer; PS1 is a possible touring site.

The quasi-independent PS1, which is affiliated with MoMA but focuses on contemporary art exhibitions, has been without a director for nearly a year, since the abrupt departure last June of Kate Fowle for a commercial position at mega-gallery Hauser & Wirth. Fowle’s tenure lasted less than three years, with much of that during the difficult pandemic closure. At PS1, Butler will lead a department of four curators plus a staff of nearly 40.

Moshayedi’s role with the Tamayo Museum, a fixture for modern and contemporary art in the Mexican capital’s Chapultepec Park since its 1981 founding by painter Rufino Tamayo, is unusual. As curator-in-residence, Moshayedi will remain in Los Angeles, making regular commutes south. He will also have an adjunct role at the UCLA Hammer while finishing several projects for 2024.


Among them is the L.A. presentation of Suriname-born, Amsterdam-based Fluxus artist Stanley Brouwn, who died at 81 in 2017. Brouwn was infamous for refusing to allow curators to publicly interpret or reproduce his work. The Art Institute of Chicago, where the retrospective is currently on view, is the primary organizer.

At the Hammer, Moshayedi experimented with group exhibitions installed in open-plan galleries, sometimes including performance art scheduled to happen at irregular intervals alongside traditional paintings, sculptures, photographs and video projections. (In one memorable example, a male stripper strutted his stuff in a work by Berlin-based artist Tino Sehgal.) The format didn’t always work, but it represented an admirable attempt to organize museum exhibitions reflective of art’s sense of unrestricted investigation. A California native, like Butler, Moshayedi co-curated the McCarthy drawing retrospective with her.

Ramírez, 40, was announced last year as guest curator (with Diana Nawi) for “Made in L.A. 2023,” the Hammer biennial survey opening Sept. 24. Born and raised in Guatemala City, his work at Tate Modern and in his hometown and elsewhere has focused on First Nations and Indigenous art, especially from places historically affected by European colonization. Current art from Central America has been something of an omission for major L.A. museums, a dearth that is notable in a county where more than 15% of residents — some three-quarters of a million people — trace their origins to the region.

“I’m very sorry to see Connie and Aram go,” Hammer Director Ann Philbin said in an interview, when asked about plans to begin a search for replacements, “but we will endeavor to create a similar kind of diversity of intellectual and curatorial practice that has been so effective on our team. With Pablo and Erin in place we already have a great start towards that goal.”

Philbin hopes to fill the two curatorial vacancies by the fall.