Meet the newest addition to the Ross Gallery staff – Emily Zimmerman, Assistant Director / Assistant Curator

July 12, 2022

I understand you have family ties to the University of Pennsylvania

Yes, my father, Franklin Zimmerman, was the chairman of the Music Department at the University of Pennsylvania and taught musicology for 25 years. Many family members are UPenn alumni – many of my aunts and siblings, including two sisters that received graduate degrees in Architecture.

My family has closely identified with the University of Pennsylvania for some time. My great aunt, Francis Fitch, was an early female instructor at the university in the 1910s and 1920s, teaching dance and elocution (below is a Daily Pennsylvanian article from 1917 that mentions a dance performance with her students). Her husband, Carl Aldrich, graduated from the University of Pennsylvania Veterinary School in 1914, and the Dental School in 1919.

UPenn was a big part of my life growing up, I learned how to ride a bike on Locust Walk, and in high school I started seeing exhibitions at the Institute of Contemporary Art Philadelphia and Arthur Ross Gallery. After attending New York University for Art History and Anthropology, I interned at the ICA Philadelphia with John McInerney and Tanya Leighton, around the time of Ingrid Schaffner’s brilliant exhibition The Big Nothing.

What are some of your goals in working with the UPenn faculty, staff, and students and the Philadelphia community?

I have been interested in how university art galleries can be spaces for speculative thinking. Peter Schjeldahl, long-time art critic for the New Yorker, argued once that “The arts are a great laboratory of the absolutely free play of ideas and emotions that normal social life can’t accommodate.” A gallery can be a space for speculation about possible worlds; with each new exhibition there is an opportunity to create a vision that asserts what the world might look like.  Once that vision exists, once it takes up space, it has consequences.

At the same time, university art galleries act as meeting places for multiple audiences: students, faculty, and staff across schools, as well as community members all sharing the same space. My curatorial work is rooted in engagement, beginning with artists and community, and building towards larger curatorial frameworks. Being from Philadelphia, I am incredibly invested in the art community here. I have loved Furness’ Fisher Fine Arts Building since I was a child and have gravitated towards it at significant moments in my life – I wrote my graduate school application for the Center for Curatorial Studies at Bard College here.  My hope is to do programming that honors the Philadelphia arts community through collaborations and partnerships, and that honors this building and its history. It’s a tremendously exciting time to be at Penn, I’m so excited to collaborate with the faculty through programming.

What are some of your favorite exhibitions that you’ve seen in the past few years?

I am still haunted by two exhibitions I saw in Venice in 2017: Intuition at the Fortuny Museum and The Boat is Leaking, the Captain Lied at the Prada Foundation. Intuition was a revelation of exhibition design, a deeply moving experience of artwork in spaces rich in intuitive gestures. Appropriate to the exhibition’s venue (Mariano Fortuny was a fashion designer and lighting engineer), the exhibition’s lighting was done with extraordinary sensitivity that broke many of the lighting rules one would normally encounter in museums and galleries.

The Boat is Leaking. The Captain Lied was an exhibition that came about through a collaboration between writer and filmmaker Alexander Kluge, artist Thomas Demand, stage designer Anna Viebrock, and curator Udo Kittelmann. Taking place across multiple floors of the Prada Foundation in Venice, the exhibition reflected on truth, misinformation, and the public life when the phrase “alternative facts” had just arrived on the global stage. Within the exhibition, stage designer Anna Viebrock created a set of full-size models including a courtroom, a cinema, and a department store display, to reflect on the deep and pervasive issue of misinformation and the relationship between subjecthood, media, and architecture. The Boat is Leaking. The Captain Lied. upturned some of the standardized narratives surrounding such issues, creating a physical model of the experience of misinformation, and allowing for the nuances of an embodied understanding of the issue. What happens when you bring the wisdom of the body to bear on some of our most entangled societal issues? That question had stuck with me these past few years, its one I’m still digesting in my own curatorial practice.