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Ann Philbin's eureka moment materializes

October 17, 2009 |  9:30 am

Ann Philbin What Ann Philbin encountered on her first visit to the Hammer Museum, which she has directed for the last 10 years, was an institution in search of an identity. What she envisioned was its future.

“As ugly as this building was and in some ways still is, in terms of its awkwardness,” she says, “it screamed: community center, cultural center, gathering place. And that’s how we function. Even though we have an international reputation for our programs and exhibitions, we are equally proud of the fact that we are a beloved neighborhood museum.”

Getting there hasn’t been easy. Founded by oilman Armand Hammer and put under UCLA’s umbrella in 1996, the museum was adrift for several years. But on Philbin’s watch it has compiled an impressive record of critically acclaimed exhibitions, emerging artists’ projects and eclectic public programs.

The auditorium, left unfinished for years, has become a forum for lectures, panel discussions, poetry readings and films. A new cafe attracts neighborhood noshers as well as museum visitors. The central courtyard is a place to go for summer concerts and jazz. For the art community, the once sleepy Hammer has become a hot spot for contemporary art and ideas, and a venue for serious exploration of overlooked historical subjects.

“Annie has effected a major transformation of the institution,” says Lisa Phillips, director of the New Museum of Contemporary Art in New York.

To read the full story in Sunday’s Art & Books section, click here.

-- Suzanne Muchnic

Photo: Ann Philbin with contemporary art at the Hammer Museum. Credit: Anne Cusack / Los Angeles Times.