Cathy Breslaw's Installation

Cathy Breslaw's Installation
Cathy Breslaw's Installation:Dreamscape

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Behind the Scenes Conversations: Interview with Derrick R. Cartwright

Derrick Cartwright

I recently met with Derrick Cartwright at his office on campus at the University of San Diego’s Founders Hall. Along with its offices, Founders Hall houses the Robert and Karen Hoehn Family Galleries and the Hoehn Print Room.  Derrick divides his time between the responsibilities as Director of University Galleries and Professor of Practice – teaching art history students about art objects and the growth of art collections, as well as collaborating in their participation in curating exhibitions. Derrick’s career story has been a path guided by academic scholarly research and stints as executive director of museums. It has also been a journey woven with a network of strongly developed relationships with former mentors and professors - and those who recognized and admired his skills and abilities and his potential for leadership.

Derrick Cartwright’s story begins with having been born and raised in San Francisco.  He described his parents as creative people who also collected art. His father painted and sculpted in his spare time and his mother, a psychologist, also painted.  Having grown up with an appreciation for the visual arts, Derrick went to UC, Berkeley where he received his AB degree in Art History. At Berkeley, an important mentor and professor was Peter Selz, who Derrick credits as having helped deepen his excitement and interest in American 20th century modern art.  Selz who had been curator of painting and sculpture at MOMA in New York, also had personal relationships with famous
artists like DuChamp, Christo, Rothko and deKooning and brought these admired artists and their work to life for Derrick.  

Not quite sure of his next move after college, Derrick worked as Assistant to the Director of a commercial art gallery in San Francisco. Though he was “turned off” to the idea of art as a commodity, Derrick felt he learned a great deal by observing the Gallery Director as he managed all the challenges of running the gallery from handling the art, setting up exhibitions to other duties. After this experience, Derrick decided to attend graduate school for an MA in Art History at UCLA where he studied early 20th century American Art under the tutelage of Jim Cuno. Cuno, who is currently CEO and Director of the J.Paul Getty Trust encouraged Derrick to investigate museums as a career consideration but also guided him to studying for a Ph.D in Art History. Prior to continuing on with his education, Derrick received an NEA internship at the De Young Museum in San Francisco where he spent a year and curated a small exhibition of American artists.  He attributes this experience to having taught him about how museums operate including how collections are developed, and the process of creating and installing exhibitions.
Musee D'Art American, Giverny, France

Having completed his internship at the DeYoung, Derrick selected the University of Michigan to study for his Ph.D.  There, he studied under his teacher and mentor, art historian David Huntington. While Derrick was completing his dissertation at Michigan, Harrington passed away and Derrick was offered an Assistant Professorship at USD in San Diego. Derrick was at USD from 1992-1998, during which time he was a lecturer and taught several art history courses.  At about the end of his time at USD, a former professor at Berkeley was leaving and asked Derrick to replace her.  While teaching art history courses at Berkeley, Derrick received a call from a trustee at the Musee D’Art American in Giverny, France who offerred Derrick  the  position as Director of the museum. Derrick describes this as having been a wonderful adventure for he and his family. After two years of running this museum of American artists, his mentor and teacher Jim Cuno recommended him for the position as Director of the Hood Museum of Art at Dartmouth College. The museum, which houses 65,000 art objects, and has several curators, also served as a teaching opportunity for Derrick to share his knowledge with students about how to negotiate the purchase of art objects and to de-mystify what museums are all about.

Seattle Art Museum, Picasso Exhibition
In 2004, Derrick was offered the position as Director of the San Diego Museum of Fine Art. During his five years at the museum, Derrick believes the museum made some great strides.  He hired some top curators from Yale and other places, and importantly, extended the scope of the museum by partnering with museums in India, Japan, Mexico, China and other countries. The SDMFA exchanged collections, staff, and exhibitions which was a tremendous growth experience for everyone involved. In 2009, Derrick was offered the position of Director at Seattle Art Museum where he worked for two years and was a consultant for an additional year. His timing was not perfect, as during those years museums and the country were bridled by an economic crisis not seen since the great Depression. Spending much of his time dealing with budget crisis and taking steps to re-stabilize the museum was a huge challenge. Nevertheless, Derrick was very proud to have been able to bring a large Picasso exhibition  to Seattle from the Musee National Picasso which brought in 400,000 visitors in a single year. At that point, Derrick felt that he and his family were ready to return to California to be near friends and family and for Derrick, to USD, where he had first taught, and had such fond memories.

'Night Shadows', Edward Hopper(1921)
I believe Derrick Cartwright has come full circle. Hearing about his plans for the galleries and students at USD, it is clear that he has a deep commitment to the students, their families, and the community.  His future plan is to create connecting exhibitions among the four galleries on campus by focusing the art on prints at the Hoehn Family Galleries, artwork that features issues related to social justice at the Joan Kroc Institute for Social Justice, artwork that connects with Native American Cultures at the David W. May American Indian Collection and Gallery and the Hoehn Print Study Room that is a “hands-on” opportunity to view works by master printmakers including Goya, Dürer, Callot, Rouault, and Rembrandt. San Diego is fortunate to welcome the return of a passionate teacher and curator, and someone who will work to foster relationships between the University of San Diego and the many museums, galleries, visual art institutions and other art entities in the county.

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