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The Curator Is In, October 6, 2011

Posted on by sbernhardt

MIA: Our curators are now online. Bring on your questions!

Reid O.: why do people make art for money?
Christopher Atkins: RO: We all have to make a living, right?

Shawn G.: We are live from White Bear Lake Area High School with our AP Art History Class, and are wondering what type of schooling is required to become a curator?
Dennis Michael Jon: Generally, a post-graduate degree in Art History is a good target. Some museums require curators to hold a Ph.D. degree. Others look for a Masters.
Christopher Atkins: SG: Hello White Bear Lake High! You know, there are many ways to become a curator, with a combination of education and experience. And it depends on what kind of curator you want to be. A former colleague of mine once said, “Get a PhD in your field. The rest is on the job training.” I don’t agree with that but many curators are very academic & research oriented. Other curators have other experiences. For example, I work with living artists in the state. Since we don’t have a collection it’s helpful to know how to meet their needs and work on projects that are still coming together. And I still don’t have my PhD :)
Patrick Noon: SG a Phd would be helpful but practical experience in a museum is probably more valuable
Thomas Rassieur: On the educational background of curators, your academic work does not need to be in art history, but a strong liberal arts background is a plus–foreign languages and writing are extremely important. Beyond school, an aspiring curator should see as much art as possible and learn about it in the greatest detail possible. Travel, look, and read. Go out and meet curators, collectors, scholars, dealers, auctioneers. These types of people can give you access to works of art that you can actually handle so that you can build your connoisseurship. It’s a lot of work, a lot of fun, and a big gamble to pursue this career. If you want to go for it, I wish you the best of luck!
Cynthia B.: Mr. Gritzmacher- I’m also a WBL grad and took AP Art History with Kevin L Langmaack. It was a great stepping stone into my art history coursework at the U of M!

Shawn G.: Has there ever been an attempted art theft at the MIA?

Shawn G.: Why is the Virgin Mary traditionally depicted wearing pink and blue, gold and white?
Erika Holmquist-Wall: Shawn, about your question relating to the color iconography of the Virgin Mary: It’s actually variable. The classic color of dark blue is Byzantine in origin, and is the color of an empress. Flemish painters preferred to make her cloak blue, while German painters had a preference to make it red. Blue is the color of the skies and the heavenly realm, while red is the color of kings. There’s a lot written on color symbolism in art – it’s a fascinating topic!

Shawn G.: What are common tools used in art preservation?
Patrick Noon: SG: the most commonly employed tool in paintings conversation is a cotton swab followed by a microscope

Shawn G.: What happens if a curator drops something?
Christopher Atkins: SG: You break it. You buy it.

Reid O.: if art is truly a piece of yourself, TRULY, you could never put a price on that.

Shawn G.: Christopher, interestingly enough, one of our students would like to know the meaning behind the gallery with the slides and writing on the wall?
Christopher Atkins: SG: “Finally, We Are All Young Again” had (it just came down on Monday) a lot going on in it, with a combination of text, images, and sculpture. Does you student have a more specific question about the installation?
Shawn G.: Christopher, why had the artist chosen to use slides as a medium?
Christopher Atkins: SG: Adam Caillier and Michae Mott, who work as a collaborative, spent a lot of time watching videos. If you looked closely at the slides, you would see that they were all from either dance/choreography or flower images shot directly from the television screen. The reason they used slides is because they are interested in lo-fi photography, they like the way slides are used to document and archive information, the hundreds of slides they made are a way of showing how much energy and labor they put into making their work, and finally, taped together and installed on the light boxes they create a picturesque mini-architectural space that people can look into.

Shawn G.: Many of us attended the “Louvre and the Masterpiece” exhibit, and were curious why there were such stringent climate controls at the MIA, when the Louvre itself has very little in the way of climate controls. Some of us have been to the Louvre on hot and humid summer days, with no air conditioning…

Carey P.: In the art history feild, where are some of the best schools for a grad program? Would studying abroad for grad school look good when looking for a job?

Set V.G.: “If I had never dropped in on that single calligraphy course in college, the Mac would have never had multiple typefaces or proportionally spaced fonts.” – Steve Jobs. Curators: Why in your opinion do so few people understand that exposure to art can have a rippling effect on science and industry, culture, and even politics?
Christopher Atkins: I’ll try to give a partial answer to what I think is a much bigger question…I’m not a sociologist but I think that our decorative arts collection is a way to see some of the ripple effects; it is in many of these pieces that you can see the combination, in different proportions, of aesthetics, industry, and culture that you’re talking about. And you can see it from ancient Egypt to Prairie Style.
Dennis Michael Jon: SVG: I personally believe there are many people who look at art as entertainment or a luxury good, rather than something basic to the human soul. Outside of the marketplace, art is intangible, hard to quantify, and highly diverse. But those who value art know and understand its intrinsic value in revealing new knowledge about the world.

Emily R.: In light of Elizabeth Warren’s lecture tonight (and the unfortunate down-sizing of the American Folk Art Museum), can you talk about the relationship between “folk” and “fine” art? And could you please someday host a traveling exhibit of Infinite Variety…it was one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen! :)
Jennifer Olivarez: Emily, this is quite a complex question but I’ll try to address it as the only decorative arts curator on this afternoon (though other curators might want to address it as well, since folk art is not limited to decorative arts). We consider folk art (which can be considered as artistic examples of material culture, usually by self-taught artists) at its highest quality to be appropriate for our collection, though some encyclopedic museums don’t collect or show folk art. It depends on the museum’s practices and collections. I know many collectors of folk art that show their paintings, quilts, and other pieces alongside very sophisticated examples of furniture from similar periods. So I think its evolution has been alongside the appreciation of various areas of the decorative arts in many ways. In paintings I would venture to say that self-taught itinerant artists have also found a place in the history of art. The so-called naive or not formally-trained artists are represented in many cultures, usually making things important for their cultures, as the quilts were. Quilts have an important status in the craft world as well. I’d better quit now before I get in trouble! As far as getting the “Infinite Variety” show, I don’t think it’s traveling, and I wish I would have seen it myself–I just saw it in photos!
Emily R.: Thank you, Jennifer! I appreciate your response. I keep hoping that if I keep nagging, those quilts will travel across the country for all to see. Someone warn Ms. Warren…I’ll ask her the same thing tonight. :)
Jennifer Olivarez: Good, glad you’ll be there! Thanks!

Gail M.K.: Rumor: rembrandt’s Lucretia once held a wine goblet. Is this true?
Erika Holmquist-Wall: Hi Gail – it’s an urban legend, perpetuated by a TV promotion which aired in the 1970s.
Patrick Noonno, that was never the case

MIA: Hello Erika, It’s good to see you online. Where are you?
Erika Holmquist-Wall: I’m typing in from Bremen, Germany. It’s late here! We loaned a painting to an Edvard Munch show at the Bremen Kunsthalle, and it looks to be amazing. The show developed around the recent discovery of a second Munch painting doubled up against the canvas of a Munch owned by the Kunsthalle.

Janet W.: Any possibility that we might see some of Winston Churchill’s paintings sometime?
Patrick Noonnot likely; you’ll have to travel abroad. Same for Prince Charles’ watercolors

Shawn G.: Patrick, it is interesting to us how much a Rembrandt Painting looks like a photograph with a shallow depth of field. Where do you think this aesthetic originates from with him?
Danny R.: A shot in the dark. Sometimes artists squint their eyes when looking at their subject. This tends to blur things in the background … and things outside the perimeter of the subject.
Thomas Rassieur: It’s an interesting question. The photographic effect is more often connected with Vermeer, Rembrandt’s younger contemporary who probably used a camera obscura when preparing to paint his pictures. I hope that you will come to the MIA next summer to see “Rembrandt in America.” We will have over two dozen paintings by Rembrandt here in our galleries. You will see that his painting style varied remarkably over the course of his career. Often the various sections of a single painting, his approach could also change radically. the catalogue for “Rembrandt in America” is already for sale in the MIA’s bookstore. It is well printed an has lots of enlarged details of the paintings. Once you’ve been to the exhibition and really looked closely at Rembrandt’s paintings, you will find that he has all kinds of ways of drawing our attention to the important features of his subjects–controlling the lights, textures, degree of finish, color juxtapositions, etc. I hope that you will enjoy the experience and see the show several times. With each visit you will discover new depth in Rembrandt’s pictures.

Shawn G.: Who is responsible for “Art Remix?”
Michael D.: Steve Jobs.
Christopher Atkins: SG: Our curator of contemporary art, Liz Armstrong.

Cynthia B.: Dr. Weisberg spoke about the state and decline of the production of exhibition catalogues at his lecture this past weekend. How do you see exhibition catalogues playing a role in the future exhibitions you curate?
Patrick Noon: CB, some of the best scholarship in art history is being published in exhibition catalogues, so I’m unclear as to what Gabe was proposing.
Jennifer Olivarez: Cynthia, that’s an interesting question. A lot of time it depends on advance timing and funding. We do consider catalogues to be a priority for the MIA, especially those that cover our permanent collection. However, we’re trying to think out of the box as a profession–I have been at several curatorial conference sessions about digital catalogues and other online catalogue resources slowly being explored by museums. We all are attached to the printed catalogue, so it may be awhile in the future. I’ve even heard of exhibition catalogues being done after the show, to bring together symposium papers and other discussions and observations that come up during exhibitions. So expect more creative solutions in the future.
Cynthia B.: P. Noon: I agree. From my understanding he was referring to the cost of publishing negatively impacting financially strapped institutions and curators not having enough time to complete an entire catalogue prior to the exhibit. J. Olivarez: Thank you, I look forward to it!
Rachel McGarry: I think Prof. Weisberg is right that exhibition catalogues are changing. As in most fields, I imagine more and more scholarship will be published online. I think there are a lot of special opportunities in using technology to illuminate ideas, but I think (hope) there will always be a demand for printed, beautiful art books

Reid O.: why did van gogh only receive accolades for his art posthumously?
Erika Holmquist-Wall: Well, there are a number of reasons. 1. He died far too young; only in his late thirties. 2. He had a number of friends and family members willing and eager to promote his art after his death – his brother Theo was an art dealer, his “frenemy”, Paul Gauguin, who had achieved artistic success, etc. :)
Which also begs the question, is it better to be famous during your lifetime and disappear into absolute obscurity upon your death, or toil away without appreciation during your life, and become famous posthumously?
Reid O.: I wonder what vincent would have to say about that

Hanna K.S.: what sort of college programs did the curators go through/what sort of connections/internships did they make/do before they got their first museum job? help a budding curator out!
Christopher Atkins: This answer depends on what kind of work you’re interested in. If you’re interested in contemporary art, there are a lot of programs nowadays where artists work very closely with curators, and vice versa. In fact, for people who work in smaller galleries, kunshalles, public projects, and temporary venues, the lines between curators and practitioners is increasingly obscured. I’m partial to my alma mater, Goldsmiths College, but there are programs at Bard College, University of Oregon(?), Royal College, to name a few. Besides that, I can’t overestimate the value of being a good writer, not being bashful about introducing yourself to people, and seeing as much work as you can.
Hanna K,S.: Thanks Christopher! I’m looking to have David Little’s job someday, and I hope that my Museum Studies Major at Rochester Institute of Technology will provide me with the schooling that I need.
Erika Holmquist-Wall: Hanna, art history, art history and more art history, if you want to be a curator! And make as many connections as you can, do lots of informational interviews, offer yourself up to lots of (frequently) unpaid internships, and the like.

Shawn G.: From the standpoint of “Influence,” what do you believe is the most valuable piece in the MIA? The Doryphorus?
Cynthia B.: I would guess that it is the Prud’hon?
Patrick Noon: probably the Poussin Death of Germanicus
Adam M.C.: Mondrian
Thomas Rassieur: One good bet is Albrecht Dürer’s “Adam & Eve,” an engraving made in 1504.
Rachel McGarry: In terms of the transmission of an artistic idea to the broadest group of people, I would guess one of the prints in our collection might have made the biggest impact, such as a Marcantonio Raimondi engraving after Raphael or a Durer print.

Shawn G.: Our final question… What museums would make the MIA curators “favorites” list?
Erika Holmquist-Wall: The Hirschsprung Collection in Copenhagen. The Norton Simon in Pasadena. The Belvedere in Vienna.
Thomas Rassieur: The MIA! The British Museum, the Albertina, the Louvre, The Rijksmuseum, The Kunsthistorisches Museum, The Uffizi,… The truth is that in almost any museum you will make a discovery that you love!
Dennis Michael Jon: Besides the MIA, my favorite art museum destinations include the Prado (Madrid), Metropolitan Museum (New York), Art Institute (Chicago), the Vatican museums (Rome), Louvre (Paris), and the Freer Gallery (Washington, DC), but there are many, many more wonderful museums around the world.

Sean D.: At the moment, what contemporary art museums are you most inspired by?

Donna J.: How does a Minnesota Artist get there work in the MIA? I am a Gallery Owner who carries great Minnesota Artist.
Christopher Atkins: DJ: how do you mean? How does their work get displayed in an exhibition? Or how is it accessioned?

Sean D.: Describe the audiences that come to the museum.

Sean D.: Can or should all art exist within a museum? Why/why not?

Sean D.: What are some challenges that the museum faces in presenting contemporary art?
Erika Holmquist-Wall: Location, location, location.

Sean D.:In your opinion, what are the strengths of the MIA?
Jennifer Olivarez: We have one of the best Prairie School architecture and design collections anywhere, shown (mostly) in one gallery together to explore the different parts of the movement (furniture, lighting, architecture, ceramics, silver, stained glass)—come and visit Gallery 300 on your next visit!
Liu Yang: As Curator of Chinese Art, I know the MIA’s collection of Chinese art is one of the best.

Sean D.: How do the architecture and the available space within the museum inform the curatorial process?
Jennifer OlivarezIt is a big player in what we do. I for one am happy to have kind of “white box” galleries in our Target Wing as well as our Kenzo Tange wing, to allow a lot of flexibility. However, I am sometimes quite challenged by our high ceilings when showing smaller objects from our collection, such as ceramics or jewelry. We also have our own designated galleries, but some require proposals (e.g. special exhibition galleries).

Sean D.: What are the current debates regarding the role of museums in the 21st century? Where do you stand?

Sean D.: What have you learned about the art communities of Minneapolis?

Sean D.: What does diversity mean while curating?

Sean D.: What has been the general reaction from museum-goers with the immergence of contemporary art at the MIA?
Jennifer OlivarezSean, hold on, we’re not going to get to all your questions before 2!

Sean D.: How does the location of the MIA (Minneapolis, Minnesota, Midwest, United States, North America, etc.) shape the art of the museum?
Thomas Rassieur: We have more American art than most European museums. In particular, we have an extraordinary collection of Native American art, possibly due to the strong presence of Native Americans in our region.

Sean D.: Does interactive art or performance art have a place at the MIA? Why/Why not?
Erika Holmquist-Wall: Our curatorial department of Photographs was recently rechristened Photographs and New Media, in order to handle exactly this type of art.

Sean D.: Does censorship exist within the curatorial process at the MIA? Why/why not? Does corporate sponsorship influence this at all?

Sean D.: In regards to curating at the MIA, what have you learned since you’ve started?

Sean D.: Is there a difference between modern and contemporary art at the MIA? If so, what?
Erika Holmquist-Wall: Wow, these are all great questions, Sean. Contemporary art at the MIA “starts” at 1960. It seems like an arbitrary date, but it’s where we decided to split the curatorial departments for ease of maintaining the objects.
Patrick Noon: the contemporary dept is responsible for works after 1960
Jennifer OlivarezOur department handles sculpture before 1960.

Sean D.: Is your work as a curator collaborative with other employees at the MIA? How?
Erika Holmquist-Wall: All the time. I check in for advice and opinions from my colleagues, ask for critical feedback, and occasionally collaborate on projects. Curating a show requires the input from a lot of people – designers, editors, registrars, etc.

Star W.B.: Why are Museums closed on Monday’s?

MIA: Thanks for all your great questions! Any unanswered questions will be addressed next month (Nov. 3, 1-2 pm). See you then!

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