Friday, June 16, 2006


The Director as Curator

An article in yesterday's Bloomberg about Tate director Nicholas Serota's curatorial stint at his own museum should be required reading for burned-out directors who signed up for museum work in order to have a close relationship to art, but wound up having a closer relationship to megabucks donors, accountants and architects. After curating a Howard Hodgkin retrospective, Serota told Bloomberg:

For me, the pleasure of curating a show is to get back into the studio and into the galleries -- to be working with physical objects and arranging them in space and trying to make sense out of them.

I think it's essential that people working in museums should do that from time to time. Of course, in doing it, I also begin to understand how difficult it is to make an exhibition at the Tate, and the problems about getting the lighting right, and how to ensure that an institution of this kind works smoothly -- not just for me, but for everyone who works here.

I hereby propose that all museum directors be granted regular sabbaticals to get back in touch with what got them into this business in the first place---their passion for art. As I wrote in my October 2004 Art in America review of the book, "Whose Muse?" (which I therein retitled, "Six [Museum] Directors Kvetching"):

One begins to pity these beset directors, whose thorny administrative duties have so distanced them from their early affinity for scholarly research and hands-on curatorship.

A museum director ought to have a strong art-historical background. But then he or she should also be given the chance to use it.

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