Following reports of Italian art historian Germano Celant getting paid three-quarters of a million Euros (~$1 million) to curate a pavilion for the upcoming Milan Expo, The Art Newspaper conducted an investigation into the pay of independent curators. After surveying “around 40 international curators and biennial organizers,” they found compensation varied wildly, with the usual suspects on the international circuit being the best-paid gigs. Most lucrative are Documenta and the Venice and Gwangju Biennales:
Our research suggests that curators of the Venice Biennale earn around €90,000 a year; the total fee ranges from around €120,000 to €180,000, based on the amount of time they have to prepare. We estimate that the Gwangju Biennale, around two years’ work, pays between €100,000 and €150,000.
“As is the case in most economic sectors, most professionals are either grossly underpaid or grossly overpaid,” an anonymous “former biennial curator” told the paper.
A number of considerations affect the relative value of the curatorial fee, from expenses to benefits to — naturally — the amount of work involved. And although freelance curators might garner more visibility than their museum-bound counterparts, the remuneration, by and large, is the same:
With a few well-funded exceptions, most medium-sized biennials pay the equivalent of a museum curator’s annual salary (but require between one and two years’ worth of work). A survey published by the American Alliance of Museums in 2012 reports that an assistant curator makes around $30,000, while a chief curator can make more than $100,000 a year. Salaries for entry-level curators in UK national museums range from around £23,360 ($38,320) at the Tate to £27,089 ($46,122) at the British Museum, according to figures provided by the institutions. Senior curators can expect to earn up to £60,000.