The Art of Curating by Kevin Sharp

One of my proudest days working in museums was in 1992, when I was promoted from Research Assistant to Research Curator at the Art Institute of Chicago. So many of the people I had looked to as professional role models held the position in one form or another, whether they were young and hungry Assistant Curators, rising Associate Curators, experienced full Curators, or (most coveted of all) those who held endowed curator positions. My boss, Douglas Druick, was simultaneously the Prince Trust Curator of Prints and Drawings and the Searle Curator of European Painting. With that much title, his business card had to be printed on both sides. They were all so smart, so well studied, and knowledgeable, I wanted nothing more or less than to be counted among them.   

At the Art Institute of Chicago there were curators of everything: African art, American arts, architecture, Asian art, European painting, European sculpture and decorative arts, photography, prints and drawings, textiles, twentieth-century art, and probably others I am now forgetting. All of these disciplines were broad areas of study and collection formation, and within each were multiple sub-specialties. For example, where I worked in the Department of Prints and Drawings, there were curators with expertise in Italian renaissance and baroque drawings, Dutch and Flemish printmaking, 19th-century French prints and drawings, 19th-century British printmaking, and modern and contemporary prints, especially lithography. Plus, there was a world-renowned curator named Anselmo ‘Sam’ Carini, who worked in Prints and Drawings for thirty years (and at the Art Institute for more than fifty). He was conversant on some level with every one of the 11,000 drawings and 60,000 prints in the collection. The breadth of his knowledge was simply remarkable; great generalists like Sam barely exist anymore.   

So, when I learn that someone is curating their music through Spotify, or curating their t-shirt collection, or getting their news curated by Facebook, or any of the dozen other ways I hear the term applied, I always smile and think back to 1992. I understand better than most the powerful meaning and attraction this word has. Go curate something. 

Posted by Chantal Drake at 1:09 PM
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