Launching a Museum Career

1980s Community Curatorial Firsts Staff

Ann Goldstein, now the Deputy Director, and Chair and Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art at the Art Institute of Chicago, talks about her first museum job.


The MCA holds an extremely special first for me—it is where I began my professional career. In fall 1981, having just moved to Chicago with the hope of getting into the graduate studio art program at the SAIC, I lucked into my first museum job, working for then-Chief Curator Mary Jane Jacob as a part-time research assistant. My assignment was to accession hundreds of artists’ books of the 1960s and 1970s into the permanent collection. Working alone in a basement art storage room, I not only catalogued the books but also poured through each one . . . it is absolutely where my interest in Conceptual art was born. When I returned to Los Angeles a year later, both my life and career aspirations had totally changed: I no longer wanted to be an artist but instead a museum curator. And as luck had it, then-MCA Director John Neff suggested I check into the newly forming Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (MOCA). Indeed, one thing led to another and my professional journey continued at MOCA, then to the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, and then back to Chicago at the Art Institute. I can trace many cherished friendships and professional relationships back to that remarkable year over thirty-five years ago. I certainly would not be in Chicago today if it wasn’t for that fundamental early experience . . . a stroke of fortune for which I shall always be grateful.

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