Thanks to everyone who asked questions for yesterday’s international #AskACurator day. We had a lot of great questions come in and had a great time talking with everyone. Here are some highlights of the day, and some extra answers, suggestions, and advice from our curators.
Learn more about the curators who answered your questions during #AskACurator day.
We started off the day with a celebration:
@corningmuseum Why is today important in the world of glass?
— Scott Coots (@TScottCoots) September 18, 2013
Audrey Whitty (AW): It is the 150th anniversary of the birth of Frederick Carder, the founder and artist-designer of Steuben Glass.
Answered some commonly asked questions:
And talked about the Museum and the collection:
Karol Wight (KW): The portrait inlay of the pharaoh Akhenaten.
Tina Oldknow (TO): Phases of a rotting plum by Leopold and Rudolf Blaschka
Kelly Conway (KC): The replica of the Koh-I-Noor diamond!
AW: The circa 1676 George Ravenscroft spittoon is a wonderful object, made even more interesting from the point of view of having been initially misattributed as Indian, only to be re-discovered as English-made and from the most significant glasshouse of the time.
Alexandra Ruggiero (AR): The Carder Gallery. Also, glass on display at The Studio: all made by teachers, students, and visiting artists. Both aren’t in the Museum building and can often be overlooked.
KC: Audio tours, docent tours, website, Make Your Own Glass, glass demonstrations, publications, labels, videos, and graphic materials in the galleries.
AW: One way of the main ways to do this is via social and digital media – either through glass demonstrations on how something was made in the past, or relating a piece online to something contemporary in order to show how skills and techniques have been handed down over time, etc. – there are numerous ways to explain this digitally.
Our curators answered some questions about themselves and their many roles at the Museum:
AR: The most mundane is paperwork associated with the job. The most rewarding is working with the objects and uncovering history.
KC: Mundane-meetings. Most rewarding-creating an environment in which people make a connection with glass.
AW: The most rewarding thing is discovering new things about objects from the past every day of the week. The fact that you are constantly learning—an extremely humbling and unique working environment.
KE: Mundane (but very important): making sure catalog records are consistent. Rewarding: making new discoveries or connections when researching objects.
KW: During the first week of my graduate internship in the Antiquities Dept. at the Getty Museum, former Director David Whitehouse was visiting to discuss an upcoming auction of ancient glass. The Getty ended up bidding (and securing) a few of the pieces in that sale and they became my first research projects as an intern. I was instantly hooked and introduced to the Corning Museum of Glass through David W.
AW: The National Museum of Ireland acquires copy(ies) of the Journal of Glass Studies for its library every year, so in 1999 I had my first introduction to CMoG via the Journal as a young museum professional aged 22!
KC: Graduate school. Learned about glass from the top curators at the top institution!
KE: When I attended the annual Seminar on Glass in 2007 as a graduate student I fell in love with the museum and the area.
AR: In grad school, I attended Corning’s seminar & fell in love with the museum. I was so impressed that I switched my focus from furniture to glass!
TO: People often think that curators sit and read in their offices. That could not be farther from the truth. Much scholarly work—researching and writing—is done away from the work environment, often at home and on personal time.
AW: I suppose one misconception in relation to curating fine and decorative arts collections might be that it is in some ways glamorous, and I would say that this is definitely not the case—it demands a rigorously strong work ethic, and a continuous build-up of knowledge.
KW: From my former position at the Getty, moving and installing a two ton Roman marble sarcophagus. We needed to determine not only the structural stability of the floor in the gallery in which it was displayed but also the floors along its path of travel (and the load bearing capacity of our elevator). The sarcophagus had a lid and we only had one opportunity to get the lid on straight. The entire process was nerve-wracking.
AW: In terms of glass, I would say the conservation and subsequent display of a stained glass window by the Irish artist Harry Clarke (1889–1931), which was very fragile, being made in two separate parts, and had to fit inside an 18th century window recess in the museum building. Beautifully displayed in the end, but demanded enormous attention to detail in its installation.
KC: Figuring out how to accurately assemble, electrify, and design a case for this cut glass candelabrum made of 800+pieces.
KE: For the upcoming Lalique exhibition, there will be a group of beautiful ashtrays displayed from the 1920s. The objects are lovely, but we do not necessarily want to glorify the concept of smoking (especially for children who may visit the exhibition). This poses an interpretation challenge that the education department and the curatorial department are working together to address.
KW: Tough one. I treasure the table wares inherited from my mother and mother-in-law, and the fond memories of a trip to Italy make a mosaic glass vase purchased in Rome very special.
TO: A pseudo-ancient Roman glass flask by Josiah McElheny and a piece of the Lord’s Prayer murrine by Dick Marquis.
AW: A piece by the Irish contemporary artist Killian Schurmann, that was given to me by the family of the late Mary Boydell, founding president of the Glass Society of Ireland, in her memory. We were very close friends so it means an awful lot, as Mary taught me everything she knew about glass.
KC: The first piece of glass I made myself! A lop-sided tumbler!
KE: I treasure the small collection of glass insulators that my grandfather gave me several years ago.
AR: A gorgeous set of bowls my grandparents brought with them when they immigrated from Germany to the US. We have a similar one in the collection.
KW: Well mine crosses the line between history and art history. Paul Zanker, The Power of Images in the Age of Augustus.
TO: There are so many good ones. I’ve always loved these classics:
Kirk Varnedoe, A Fine Disregard: What Makes Modern Art Modern and Pictures of Nothing: Abstract Art Since Pollock
John Berger, Ways of Seeing
Helen Molesworth, Part Object, Part Sculpture
H. A. Groenewegen-Frankfort, Arrest and Movement: An Essay on Space and Time in the Representational Art of the Ancient Near East (about understanding narrative)
Dennis Duerden, The Invisible Present: African Art and Literature
Mircea Eliade, The Sacred and The Profane: The Nature of Religion
AW: Without a shadow of a doubt it is Edmund de Waal’s book The Hare with Amber Eyes on his family’s inherited collection of Japanese netsuke – one of the most moving stories ever on the meaning and importance of objects, and their transference across generations.
KE: I love Art Since 1900: Modernism, Antimodernism, Postmodernism by Hal Foster, Rosalind Krauss, Yve-Alain Bois and Benjamin H. D. Buchloh (Thames & Hudson, 2004), and Art Nouveau in Fin-de-Siècle France: Politics, Psychology, and Style by Debora L. Silverman (University of California Press, 1989).
AR: Difficult question, as my entire bookshelf is filled with art related books! A favorite: MoMA’s Bauhaus, 1919-1933 catalogue
And passed on some advice to future curators:
KC: I think it’s critical to communicate well if you are thinking of a curatorial position. You have to know how to read your audience and deliver your message accordingly.
AW: Do not pigeonhole yourself in terms of starting off as a museum professional. If interested in the collections side of things, then learn as much as possible about your chosen subject(s), but also be aware of the need to be able to liaise and work closely with Education and Communications departments in cultural institutions. In other words, you must be able to communicate on all levels to as many people as possible (inside and outside the museum), either verbally or via the written word.
KE: The ability to identify and communicate diverse relationships between objects across disciplines, and the ability (and willingness) to collaborate and communicate well with others.
On beginning a career as a curator:
KW: I would add that if your area of interest turns out to be archaeological, then obtaining a degree in art history or archaeology is a good idea. Curators who work in the ancient Mediterranean world all have that type of background.
KC: A good place to begin is to apply for internships or fellowships at a museum.
AW: I would say that a good primary degree in a humanities subject area, followed by a masters in a discipline such as art history, archaeology, museology or material culture studies is an excellent way to start, in addition to practical experience obtained via an internship or volunteer program.
KE: Definitely volunteer and do an many internships as you can in a museum. Write articles and blog posts that you have researched about collection items. Give tours and talks about collections to the public. And network, network, network! Meet and become acquainted to as many people you can in the field you want to go into.