From art history PhD to New York City

In a few months’ time, Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington PhD graduate Dr Anna Rigg will hop on a plane headed to New York. There, she will take up a postdoctoral fellowship at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (The Met) and use their extensive collections and archives to write her first book.

Anna Rigg
Dr Anna Rigg

Dr Rigg has lived in and loved Wellington for a long time, so Te Herenga Waka was a natural choice for her undergraduate degree.

“I love art, history, literature, and languages,” Dr Rigg says. “Art history combined a lot of what I love studying, and the art history department at Te Herenga Waka are amazing—they have given me so much support and so many opportunities over the years—so doing my Bachelor of Arts and my PhD here made sense.”

Dr Rigg’s PhD research combined her love of art history and her love of French, studying how important women were in the development of art criticism in Ancien Régime France, despite the fact that there were very few female art critics in the traditional sense.

“I wanted to recover something of the breadth and vibrancy of Ancien Régime art discourse by bringing in women's voices from poetry and oral culture,” Dr Rigg says. “It meant piecing together scattered and often fragmentary sources, taking snippets from archives, memoirs, novels, notebooks, and newspapers, but it was wonderful seeing it all come together into something so much bigger.”

Dr Rigg’s postdoctoral fellowship at The Met will extend her PhD research into a book. She will also have the opportunity to travel to France to conduct additional archival research.

“New York is a hugely exciting place for an art historian because of all the art collections and libraries you have access to there. I’ll be able to see and study some of the artworks I’ve been writing about at a distance for years.”

The Met offers more than 50 fellowships each year across a range of disciplines. With encouragement from her supervisors, David Maskill and Dr Raymond Spiteri, Dr Rigg pitched her book project to The Met, and they accepted her proposal. She will travel to New York in September to start her fellowship.

“Finding out I’d got the fellowship was the best surprise of my life,” Dr Rigg says. “I’d encourage anyone thinking about applying for similar opportunities to apply for everything they can—you never know what you might get!”

As well as her studies, Dr Rigg has also worked in a number of roles in the art and art history fields, including as a tutor, an archivist, and a gallery attendant. She was also a Te Herenga Waka Summer Research Scholar in 2015, working with David Maskill and Dr Mark Stocker to study the prints of Old Masters held by Te Papa Tongarewa.

“I feel like I’ve really found my niche in art history more broadly, and in the eighteenth century specifically. Whether I end up in academia or museums—ideally a bit of both—my main goal is to come back and continue my career in New Zealand.”