Currently working as Museum Technician at Helsinki Art Museum, Adam graduated with a First in Art History at Sussex in 1999.
Since graduating from Sussex, Adam has worked in countless museums across the globe, and with a diverse range of artists including Ai Weiwei, Kusama and Gilbert & George.
What made you choose Sussex?
Sussex had a great reputation for Art History with world-renowned lecturers who lived up to their reputations. I still sing their praises. Plus, Sussex was far more positive about Art History as a discipline: like there might actually be jobs at the end!
What’s the soundtrack to your time at Sussex?
The opening bars of Born Slippy by Underworld never fail to transport me straight back to York House! Trainspotting had just come out and Jon, along the corridor, had a huge Marshall amp and he’d absolutely blast it out…
Where was your favourite place on campus?
I was a pretty boring first year! Often up at 6am to go for a run over the Downs, avoiding the cows (I hate cows) and through the mud around Stamner and back. I spent a lot of time in the Library – although I never managed to do any actual work there. I clearly remember sheepishly looking around as my friend and I poured out the Scrabble letters…
How did you get into your line of work?
I started by volunteering at a museum in Ipswich for a couple of years whilst at Art College, and I did some voluntary work at Brighton and Hove Museum whilst at Sussex. Gradually, volunteering lead to freelance paid work and then full-time positions.
After Sussex, I worked full-time in a museum for a year, and then did my Masters degree whilst continuing to freelance (and working in other part-time jobs). Then in 2005 I got a full-time job at the V&A (Victoria and Albert Museum). I was extraordinarily fortuitous with my time there to have a fabulous, inspiring and highly skilled set of colleagues to learn from.
Today, I work as a Museum Technician at Helsinki Art Museum. In Finnish, I have the rather grand title of Vaastava Museomestari (The Responsible Museum Master – which sounds a lot more impressive than Art Handler!).
Moving a theatre prop to South Kensington. Phil Sofer, Roger Murray and Adam Monaghan. Photo by Wayne Chisnall.
What, in your working life, are you most proud of?
I’m still very pleased I got a First at Sussex. I’d worked hard to get there, re-sitting A level Art History whilst at Art College and volunteering at museums in my free time.
At Helsinki Art Museum (HAM), I’ve been responsible for the technical aspects of three of our biggest name shows in recent years: Ai Weiwei, Kusama and Gilbert & George. They’ve all been major learning experiences. It’s satisfying to see that you can cope and you do learn!
Tell us a bit more about your industry and your role?
Museum collections and touring exhibitions require such an army of people to function. The public just see the finished product, but there’s so much that goes on behind the scenes at every stage.
Conservators, registrars, designers, photographers, art handlers, architects, education staff, security, lighting teams, couriers, transport companies, airport representatives… any exhibition is a major undertaking.
I’ve had no management training, but in my job you can find yourself at the head of a project featuring people from all over the world, timetabled to set schedules, dealing with millions of Euros worth of objects…and it can be a bit daunting.
What’s your favourite place in the world?
I miss the Downs enormously. I really think it’s a very special place and to have a campus situated in the middle of it is amazing.
In 2009, I did two long Courier jobs to Lithuania and Vilnius was a really vibrant, fascinating city. It felt like it was the first generation that had matured to create all the things they couldn’t under Soviet control. And none of it was being done because it was trying to be cool: it was genuine and real rather than mediated or superficial.
I’ve had no management training, but in my job you can find yourself at the head of a project featuring people from all over the world, timetabled to set schedules, dealing with millions of Euros worth of objects…and it can be a bit daunting. ” Adam Monaghan
What has been the most memorable moment of your career so far?
I was working as a courier from about 2008, escorting and installing exhibitions around the world. And for a period, it seemed everywhere I went broke out in revolution or protest – from The Arab Spring to rioting in Hyderabad. For a while, standing between men with machine guns and art crates seemed like normal life!
In 2020, we are currently in the midst of a global pandemic crisis due to Covid 19. How is Covid-19 affecting the art world?
Like everywhere, the impact is huge. Naturally, we've closed for the time being, so that has a big effect on incoming revenue and day to day jobs. Since t
Who has influenced your life most and why?
In terms of art, it is probably the Jean Michel Basquiat show at the Serpentine in early 1996. The huge Cezanne show was on at the Tate at the same time and I remember walking around that and being utterly unmoved. Then we walked up to the Serpentine and I was just blown away. It totally changed my view of what art is, or could be, and the effect it could have on you.
Adam at Work - Photo by HAM/Hanna Kukorelli
Which artist have you most enjoyed working with, and why?
Gilbert & George were utterly brilliant. Professional, interested, appreciative…they’ve obviously been in the game a long time but were still really involved in a way that a lot of big names maybe aren’t.
What piece of advice would you like to give to yourself if you were still a student at Sussex?
An eternal regret is that I did not do a year abroad whilst at Sussex. My brother had died not that long before I came to university and I just wasn’t ready to go away; even Sussex was a bit of a test for me.
Oh, and that I didn’t go to the lecture that Derrida gave at Sussex! What was I thinking? Make the most of those opportunities, they may never come around again.
You might also be interested in: