Angela McQuillan, 36, is the curator at the Esther Klein Gallery in Philadelphia.
Is yours an independent gallery, or part of a university or another organization?
We’re part of the University City Science Center, a nonprofit that helps entrepreneurs and scientists commercialize their technologies. The center is owned by 31 shareholders — universities and research institutions in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware. The gallery’s mission is to bridge the gap between art and science and technology and provide a resource for the community.
Do you have a science or an art background?
Both. My first undergraduate degree is in biology. After graduating, I worked in a cancer research laboratory and then in vaccine manufacturing at a pharmaceutical company. My parents are research scientists, and I thought I might get a Ph.D. in science. However, I’d always been interested in art, so instead I got a bachelor’s in fine arts at night at Temple University. On the side, I was creating paintings inspired by human cells and other projects I was working on in the lab. In my personal art, I still often go back to the forms and structures I saw under the microscope.
What does your role involve?
I’m the only gallery employee. I develop the theme for each show and find the artists to take part, either online or at exhibitions or conferences, as examples. Planning for each show starts about a year ahead. I collaborate on the press releases and the catalog and visit the artists in their studios. I install each show with contractors. I also organize the artist lectures and workshops and tours for kids, and attend every event.
How did you get this job?
I exhibited my work here several years ago in a show based on microscopy — viewing objects through a microscope — and cellular structure. Three years later, I saw an ad on the Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance website for this opening and applied. I think I was the only applicant with the dual background. Also, I had been independently curating shows in Philadelphia, so I had experience. I’ve been here almost four years.
What was one of your favorite exhibitions?
Last fall’s “Gut Love: You Are My Future,” which explored the human condition through the lens of the microbiome, the millions of bacteria living inside us. Kathy High, a visiting artist who has Crohn’s disease, did a series of symbolic photographs called “Kathy as Bowie.” In them she emulated iconic David Bowie portraits, juxtaposing the singer’s gut microbiome with her own.
You’ve also had an artist collaborate with a scientist working at the Science Center.
This winter, we paired a scientist researching taste receptors and how humans perceive bitter tastes with an artist in residence who makes artwork related to synthetic biology, or the combination of biology and engineering principles. To illustrate the scientist’s work, the artist is making a series of Popsicles that taste different depending which direction you eat from. As an example, the bottom tastes different from the top.
How do you find the energy for your own art?
My work here is cyclical. I’ll have a 60-hour week when I’m hanging an exhibition and arranging and hosting the reception, but then it calms down. When I started, I thought I’d be a full-time artist one day, but I’ve really grown to like this. Curating is creative. It has informed my art, and now the two are intermixed for me.