“The labor varies depending on the size of the organization you’re working with,” Mabey said. “I’ve curated in artist-run spaces where it was me personally deadlifting 20-year-old televisions into place…and thinking about the glamorous life of the curator while doing it.”
Payment, likewise, is all over the map, depending on whether one is doing a favor for friends, or generating content for a global brand. “Like most aspects of the art world, curators’ fees are not regulated, and there are no set norms,” said Renaud Proch, Executive Director of Independent Curators International (ICI), an organization launched in 1975 that produces exhibitions and supports those working in the field. “Things change depending on context, city, resources available, and the curator’s experience. If it’s a collaboration with a commercial gallery, some curators may prefer a flat rate, while others prefer a cut from sales. It’s really murky and case-by-case.”
Those working in the industry, many of whom wished to remain anonymous when citing specific figures, shared a range of curatorial fees within the commercial gallery sector: A $2,000 flat fee plus 10% commission for curating a show at a “new gallery in its infancy,” or $2,000 plus a 20% commission (once total sales reached $10,000) for a “mid-level Lower East Side gallery.” Another gallery, founded in the mid-1990s and with outposts in both New York and California, pays roughly $2,500 to outside curators (with the expectation that they’ll assist with an event like a walk-through, talk, or V.I.P. dinner).