Amanda Jirón-Murphy – Curator & Resident Artist/Collector Liaison, Museum of Contemporary Art, Arlington


Amanda Jirón-Murphy - Curator & Resident Artist/Collector Liaison, Museum of Contemporary Art, Arlington

Amanda Jirón-Murphy is the Curator & Resident Artist/Collector Liaison at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Arlington, a role that she has held since 2022.  From 2012 – 2019 she was the Gallery Director at Hamiltonian, where she directed and curated exhibitions, art fairs and projects for an international roster of over forty mid-career and emerging artists including Whoop Dee Doo, Alejandro Pintado and Christie Neptune. Jirón-Murphy has served as a guest speaker and panel moderator at George Washington University’s Textile Museum, The Hirshhorn Museum, Smithsonian’s Luce Foundation for American Art, The National Museum of Women and the Arts, and a guest curator at The Maryland Institute College of Art. She holds a B.A. in Art History from John Cabot University in Rome, Italy and an M.A. in Modern and Contemporary Art and Connoisseurship from Christie’s Education in London, England. She lives and works in Washington, DC. 

AF: Hi Amanda! We are so excited to chat with you. To get us started, we would love to know more about your upbringing. Where are you from and what’s the arts community like there? 

AJM:  Let’s take it way, way back: I’m half Nicaraguan, half American and I was born in Iowa City, Iowa. Both of my parents did international work so my childhood was itinerant. When we lived in America we were in Virginia, just outside of Washington, DC, but we also lived in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Lima, Peru and Copenhagen, Denmark. During the international years we traveled frequently, so my ideas about art were very tied to place, history and culture. For example, when I was small and living in Sri Lanka my parents took me to Hindu and Buddhist temples often, and I have vivid memories of seeing statues and paintings in sacred spaces. I also remember visiting Machu Picchu, and in Copenhagen I loved going to the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek; it had a beautiful tropical courtyard that was a haven for me during long gray Danish winters. As a teenager we lived in the States, and during those awkward years I felt the most at ease in museums looking at art. I still do. 

Sri Lanka’s Gal Vihara, a very important site for me

The Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek Winter Garden

AF: What was your first ever job? What did you learn from this experience? 

AJM: I worked as an usher at the Multiplex Cinema in Merrifield, VA, RIP! I learned a lot about integrity in that job, and also how to get away with sneaking a few minutes of movies when the boss wasn’t watching…without compromising the integrity of doing my job, naturally.

AF: You are Curator & Resident Artist/Collector Liaison at the Museum of Contemporary Art Arlington in Virginia! We are curious to know more about your role and what the day-to-day looks like for you.  

AJM: I run an artist residency program and a collectors’ program where I take people to see art and collections, so at any given point I’m working on projects for one or the other. I spend a lot of time planning. A lot! Putting together shows involves doing studio visits, conceptualizing the show, putting deadlines on a calendar and getting all the ducks in a row. Sometimes it feels like I’m making schedules for a living, because really that’s how it all gets done. Of all the things I do, studio visits are my favorite. I do several a month. That’s where the magic happens.

AF: Tell us about one curatorial project that you recently completed! 

AJM: I worked on an amazing project with artist Marissa Long. It was a site-specific installation called “Blister Pearl.” She converted a gallery into a shrine-like room with a sepulcher in the middle filled with geodes. Marissa is a resident artist at MoCA and this was her first site-specific installation at that scale, and I felt honored that she trusted me to be a part of the process. It took the better part of a year for her to create it, and my role was helping talk her through her ideas. Seeing it come to fruition was a really rewarding experience. Marissa is incredibly talented.

Marissa Long’s “Blister Pearl”

AF: You work with many studio artists every day, what is one piece of advice you give to everyone working as a professional artist? 

AJM: Be nice. Really. You never know where someone is going, so as a default, no matter how brilliant and talented you are, just be nice to everyone you work with. 

AF: What does your daily routine look like, and what’s something you hope you can do more of in the coming year?  

AJM: This year I’d like to read and write more. Writing is where I sort out my thoughts about things, and when something really affects me I can only figure out what my relationship is to it by writing about it. I’d also like to be inspired more…which means going out and seeing things: art, theater, movies, traveling. Ideas happen for me when I go off-script.

AF: As you know, Art Frankly is a community that cares about job transparency and supporting fellow art professionals. What is the best piece of advice you can give about working in the art world?  

AJM: Every job has a lesson to offer, and no job is too small! When you’re starting out you might be in jobs that might seem unimportant or trivial, but you can learn a lot in them – about how people work, how power dynamics work, and where there is need. Use your early years in this field to build a foundation and decide what principles you want to abide by. Now that I’m further in my career I find that my challenge is to find people to help me stick to those principles.  

AF: How do you think the art world can become more transparent? 

AJM: We need a broader range of voices in the field as leaders: racially, in terms of sexual identity and socio-economically. When we broaden who we are giving the microphone to, we allow for more truths to be told.

AF: What is one Art Industry (or career) resource you love that is accessible to all? 

AJM: Friends! I’m not kidding; it really is all about who you know. Get to know people and find those that you admire and start up conversations with them. Find the folks that support you and that you can support in turn. 

AF: Is there anything we can look forward to for MOCA Arlington or any personal projects in the coming months or year?  

AJM: We are about to open an amazing solo exhibition by Brazilian artist Johab Silva that is a retelling of the story of the discovery and conquest of Brazil in immersive media like Augmented Reality and VR. 

Also coming soon: my own website! What can I say? I’m a late bloomer.

Johab Silva’s upcoming “Tales of the New World”

AF: Thank you, Amanda, for participating in Frank Talks, it has been our pleasure! To finish off, we’re curious: If you could own work by 5 different artists/craftspeople, who would be in your collection?  

AJM: I’ll tell you about the one artwork I wish I could have salvaged. It was by my late mother-in-law Jean Mann. She was a self-taught painter, and she made a fantasy version of The Biltmore Mansion entirely out of cardboard and painstakingly painted every last room with a fine-bristled brush. It was like a dollhouse, with a closed front and small, box-like rooms on the other side. There were kitchens and bathrooms and a billiard room with a pool table, and every last room was strung through with a small white Christmas light in the ceiling so you could see all the details.  Jean got rid of the house because it was falling apart, and she told me she’d make another, but she passed away before she could do it. Fortunately I still have pictures of it. I absolutely loved that piece because it was about the purity of making a thing just because. Jean didn’t have a market, or an audience, but she took a lot of time and care making it, and it showed: it was charming and quirky and truly remarkable. To me, that piece encapsulates the essence of what making art is all about.

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