What Does it Take to be the ‘Curator of Photography’ at an Art Museum?

Article Dedication

In honor of

Andreas Feininger & Harry K. Shigeta

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Taken in part from my forthcoming artist’s book:

Presenting Photography to Curators and Museums

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What does it take to be a Curator of Photography for an art museum?

Well, one thing is for sure, the job does not require the applicant to have the ability to be able to produce museum quality photography themselves. What IS required are academic and communication skills more so than art skills.

Here is an example job listing for a Curator of Photography …

The Curator of Photographs will have overall responsibility for conservation and development of the Museum’s holdings of photographs. The Curator of Photographs will be responsible for, but not limited to, performing the following jobs:

  • Cares for, researches, documents, exhibits, preserves (in consultation with the Conservation Department), and publishes works of art in the permanent collection, including those in storage or display.
  • Provides overall direction to the department and its activities including the mission, goals, and strategies of the Art Museum.
  • Demonstrates curatorial responsibility for all art objects within the aegis of the curatorial department, and works in cooperation with other curators where departmental responsibilities for art objects overlap, for example with contemporary art or where an artist is ascribed dual nationalities.
  • Responsible for the generation of temporary exhibitions, whether from concept or by assignment, organized by the Museum or by another institution. Exhibitions involve organizing, researching, writing, supervising and/or coordinating details such as lectures, catalogues, brochures, labels, installation, photography, gallery tours, publicity, fund raising, presentations on the exhibition topic, selection and negotiation of loans, hosting lenders and artists, and preparation of and adherence to budgets.
  • Lectures and writes on works of art in the Museum’s permanent collection for meetings and/or publications, within the limits of curatorial specialties.
  • Seeks and recommends new acquisitions of gifts or purchases within the curatorial specialties, including research and background studies to justify acquisition of an art object.
  • Gifts and purchases are recommended by the Curator to the Chief Curator, who recommends them to the Deputy Director who recommends them to the Director who ultimately recommends them to the Acquisitions Committee and Board. No works of art may be purchased or accepted as gifts without the Director’s and the Board’s approval.
  • Responsible for maintaining and adhering to budgets, including those related to permanent installations, temporary exhibitions, the department and special projects. Supervises departmental staff, including volunteers. The Curator of Photographs must be able to create and manage program budgets.
  • Furnishes consultation and advice on art matters to other museums, public and private collectors. At no time does the curator suggest financial appraisals.
  • Installs and labels works of art in the permanent collection.
  • Responsible for docent training, public lectures, gallery talks, and press education for projects. 
  • Supports the fund-raising and public relations efforts of the Museum, in coordination with the divisions of Development and Marketing.
  • Serves as liaison between the Museum and departmental visiting committees. Represents the Museum at social and civic events.
  • Serves on various committees and attends meetings as required by the position.
  • Acts as courier in the U.S. and abroad. Attends conferences and lectures, and visits museums and dealers in U.S. and abroad.
  • Performs miscellaneous duties as assigned by the Chief Curator.

Requirements: M.A. in Art History (Ph.D. preferred) with a minimum of five years experience in the field.

Skills necessary: A proven ability to work successfully with others to achieve institutional objectives. Must possess a broad familiarity with photographs; a demonstrated knowledge of museum practices; excellent written and oral communication skills; good working knowledge of database, word processing, and other relevant computer programs; and a commitment to both scholarship and working with diverse public constituencies; ability to present information effectively and respond to questions from museum staff, donors, members of the museum, and the general public.                              

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If you solicit museums to purchase or accept your work as a donation,  there is a good chance you will get rejected.

#1  With 2 billion cellphone cams at large, the photo market is sickly polluted with images. Many great photogs are ignored, snubbed or passed by. Don’t feel bad if you are greeted with the same enthusiasm as would be shown to a homeless person offering someone a sack of shit.

#2  Art museums seldom buy photography, they prefer to have it donated.

#3 The person doing the rejecting is not a museum quality photog themselves…good chance they are just an academic. Here is one curator’s qualification from their bio…their Ph.D. dissertation was on the relationship between dance and the visual arts in early 20th-century Paris.

#4  A major hurdle…

Gifts and purchases are recommended by the Curator to the Chief Curator, who recommends them to the Deputy Director who recommends them to the Director who ultimately recommends them to the Acquisitions Committee and Board. No works of art may be purchased or accepted as gifts without the Director’s and the Board’s approval.”  

Taste in art is so different between people. Getting everyone on board can be tough. If freezing time is in your blood, none of this matters. You need to just suck it up and move on. If you can’t take rejection…don’t be an artist.

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Joe at Doorway - Gender Benders from the 1970's 1974 Daniel D. Teoli Jr. m

Hollywood, CA 1974  Joe at Doorway

From: Gender Benders from the 1970’s

a limited edition artist’s book by

Daniel D. Teoli Jr.

https://danielteolijr.wordpress.com/2015/05/16/genders-benders-from-the-1970s/

 A complete listing of artist’s books by Daniel D. Teoli Jr.

https://danielteolijr.wordpress.com/2016/03/07/artists-books-by-daniel-d-teoli-jr-2/

Also see the 6 volume Flappers artist’s book series:

https://danielteolijr.wordpress.com/2016/07/01/announcing-the-flappers-artists-book-series-by-daniel-d-teoli-jr/

The Flappers artists' book 2016 by Daniel D. Teoli Jr.