I guess there’s always modeling. In 2008, Yohji Yamamoto’s Y Line used curators as models. Clockwise from top left (& their institutions at the time): Léanne Sacramone (Fondation Cartier, Paris); Kaat Debo (Momu Anvers, Antwerp); Angeline Scherf (Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris); Hans Ulrich Obrist (Serpentine Gallery, London); Olivier Sailliard (Musée de la Mode et du Textile, Paris); and Julien Fronsacq (Palais de Tokyo, Paris).

Since learning of Shaquille O’Neal’s curating gig with Flag Art Foundation, among other dubious projects announced last year, I have found myself returning to Eva Diaz’s piece Whither Curatorial Studies? from last February, in which she weighed the teachings of curatorial degree programs against the realities of the profession. Does this “pedagogical cottage industry” adequately prepare its students for the real world of curating? While I don’t see my own degree in curatorial studies as complete rubbish, the field was/is certainly romanticized and, these days, open to just about anybody (sans degree) who thinks he or she has “discerning” taste.

If you’re considering this educational path, here are ten things to keep in mind:

#10: It helps not to ask certain questions. To wit: bubbling with enthusiasm at the start of grad school, I asked a well-known curator what advice he gave aspiring young people in the field. He replied, “I’m not sure one can be trained to curate.”

#9: There are better paying industries in which you can use your “good eye” and still call yourself a curator. For example, you can organize concerts and parties; decorate homes, hotels and shops; create food and wine displays; or dribble balls.

#8: It’s good to know art history, but it’s even better to know the right people.

#7: Which one sounds better: “I curate independently for the personal reward” or “I curate independently for .10 cents an hour”? These are your options.

#6: Those who say that art writing is a short road to poverty don’t know about The Instant Art Critique Phrase Generator. With this, one could do extremely well (at Artforum).

#5: If you believe that James Franco’s stint as an artist-serial killer on General Hospital is “subversive performance art,” you don’t need a degree. You need a brain.

#4: You’re only as important as your last show OR the celebrity standing next to you.

#3: US News says “curator” is one of the 50 best careers of 2010. The photo used to illustrate this article is apt: the writer appears to know as much about the job as what’s in the frame … very little.

#2: CNN Money, on the other hand, did their homework.


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Nicole Caruth

Nicole J. Caruth is a freelance writer and independent curator based in Brooklyn, New York. She contributes a monthly food and art column to the Art:21...

9 replies on “Ten Tips for Aspiring Curators”

  1. You forgot to mention that you should name your shows after songs from 80s bands, preferably by The Smiths, but Joy Division and The Fall are also acceptable.

  2. Excellent tips Nicole! I’m afraid that when I meet aspiring curators hoping to be accepted to a pricey grad program I’m not very encouraging. I hope your reality check will make some think twice.

  3. Being a curator is a thankless task. Artists are never happy with the presentation of their work unless it upstages everyone else’s work. Bureaucrats in museums are never happy with spending money. And art critics always think they could do a better job of selecting the artists.

    1. Being a curator might be a selfish task — sometimes I wonder if I really make a contribution to the world — but I’ve never found it to be thankless, particularly when it comes to working with artists.

  4. OMG… the instant art critique phrase generator just made my day… I’ve always believed that curating requires the same skills as a club DJ or a excerise instructor…. you’ve got to take a quick read of all the personlalities in the room…. and find just the right beat (or idea) to make them bounce like wild….

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