Curatorial Practice

Matthew Israel
Dec 16, 2013 10:39PM

With the almost meteoric rise in popularity of the curatorial profession over the past five years, more and more aspiring curators have sought professional training at institutions such as Bard College, Goldsmiths (in London), the Städelschule in Frankfurt, the Institute of Fine Arts, NYU, Columbia University, as well as the Whitney Independent Study Program and Independent Curators International, among others. To add to prospective students' options—and diversifying the ways in which we conceive of curating and think about curators in general—recently SVA announced the creation of a graduate program for curating, but one which is specifically dedicated to the practice of curating, its MFA in Curatorial Practice (CP)

In this respect, the program seeks to differentiate itself from other current options by giving students an historical context for curating and emphasizing hands-on work in the field. It also foregrounds professional networking. It’s just blocks from Chelsea galleries, and faculty members all work in significant New York institutions, and the school emphasizes that it will be a “hub” for dialogue rather than a cloistered institution.

The program's impressive faculty includes Richard Flood, Clare Gilman, Matthew Higgs, David Frankel, Daniel Kunitz, Charles Renfro, and the Advisory Council includes Marina Abramovic, Daniel Birnbaum, Okwui Enwezor, Thelma Golden, Madeleine Grynsztejn, Udo Kittelmann, Lars Nittve, Lisa Phillips, Paul Schimmel, Olga Viso and Sheena Wagstaff. Stephen Henry Madoff will be the Department Chair and Jovana Stokic will be the Deputy Director.

The curriculum for the program is particularly interesting, for the sheer fact that it has sought to understand deeply how curators should be trained. Following are a few interesting features/courses:

To begin with, the program intends to train curators for an entire year in the practices in which they will be curating. Which is to say, paintings curators need to know how to paint. (Seems obvious but historically this has often not been the case.) Students will endure crits just like “normal” art students at the undergraduate level in the hope that "at the end of the course, they will have a deeper understanding of the techniques, materials, conceptual challenges and risks of being a working artist.” Or, as Stokic explains genuinely, “Or how to not be awkward around art-making.” 

Students will also meet with leading artists of different generations who are resident in New York or are visiting to learn about their work and lives, but more importantly, to hear about “their exhibition experiences, and what they seek and expect from their relationships with curators” so as to increase the students’ knowledge of curatorial issues from the perspective of the artist.

Additionally, students will study a broad spectrum of spatial structures, historical and contemporary, which have been the sites of exhibitions. Taught by an architect, the intention is to provide an analytical sensitivity to physical spaces toward utilizing this knowledge in the practice of exhibition-making.

The program will take its first students in Fall 2014. To learn more about it, visit their website

The images accompanying this post are renderings of the future SVA space on West 21st Street, designed specifically for the program by Charles Renfro of Diller Scofidio + Renfro, in association with the design firm Leong Leong. Their goal is to create a dynamic environment in which continual discussion, pedagogy, professional visits, critical encounters, research, and production take place. All photos courtesy Leong Leong.

Matthew Israel