What Do Curators Actually Do? What Do Curators Actually Do?

“People think curating just means choosing nice things”. Words coming from the curator of making at Derby Museums, when asked about her line of work she says, “It’s quite hard to answer. We don’t spend all day lurking in musty stores anymore; it’s all about people. It’s their stories and complexity that really make collections pop.

This week in The Art Dose’s blog let’s find out what is the role of the curator in the contemporary art world? Often working behind the scenes in an opaque job, curators greatly influence the art we see in galleries and museums and, as a result, help determine which art critics write about.

Love of the art world and its history is a must for anyone with a desire to become an art curator. They are the “face” of a museum or a gallery and people will expect the curator to have the knowledge to answer questions about the various art pieces on display, whether a painting, sculpture, modern or ancient piece of art. Skills specific to art curation include the ability to examine and analyze the authenticity of works, the preservation and protection of works of art, as well as the knowledge to assess their value, both culturally and monetarily. Art curators hold the bulk of the responsibility for acquiring pieces to display, whether through purchase or loan from another institution or private collector.


Curators at The National Gallery | lookthebusiness.ie/anne-hodge-niamh-macnally


But this is not enough; An art curator must possess essential business skills, including negotiating for the best price or trade terms, working within a budget, managing staff, colleagues and benefactors, as well as some marketing and grant-writing knowledge. Although art and business often seem like conflicting concepts, to successfully curate an art collection, one will have to work with finances, the public, staff, volunteers and possibly a board of directors. In smaller organizations, the curator may also write grant requests that allow the gallery or museum to acquire and care for works of art. Any gallery or museum must have an audience to be successful. Therefore, marketing exhibits and collections is a vital part of an art curator’s job.


Lucy Bamford in front of Joseph Wright of Derby’s A Philosopher Lecturing on the Orrery. Photograph: Jon Hindmarch/Derby Museums Trust.


Curators also play a key role in the acquisition and selection process of institutions, deciding on how to allocate budgets and deciding which works are displayed. Finally, curators decide how the artworks will hung in galleries and how the viewing public experiences the exhibition, by researching how to show artworks in art historically coherent and entertaining way.

An Italian curator pointed out that in today’s market-driven contemporary art environment, curators retain the important task of highlighting art’s noncommercial dimension, “Art” he says “no matter which crazy value it can demand, is still needed by society”.

Finally, curating isn’t just a matter of taste. It involves building up real knowledge of the items in your care. One needs to be open-minded and prepared to dig deep for creative solutions to an unimaginable range of problems and issues. It’s not easy, but it is rewarding!


Whitney Museum of American Art curator Scott Rothkopf at the museum’s Wade Guyton exhibit. CLAUDIO PAPAPIETRO FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL.


• https://news.artnet.com/art-world/art-demystified-curators-741806• https://news.artnet.com/art-world/art-demystified-curators-741806
• https://www.theguardian.com/culture-professionals-network/2016/jan/22/museum-curator-job-secrets-culture-arts• https://www.theguardian.com/culture-professionals-network/2016/jan/22/museum-curator-job-secrets-culture-arts

• https://www.theartcareerproject.com/become/art-curator/• https://www.theartcareerproject.com/become/art-curator/