Wednesday, October 3, 2007

How many more curators will join the trade?

From Art Market:
How many more curators will join the trade?

By Jane Morris | Posted 13 September 2007

LONDON. The move from the public to private sector of Guggenheim director Lisa Dennison might be the most visible, but she is not the only curator to cross what used to be an unscalable wall. Curator Jonathan Binstock left the Corcoran Gallery in Washington, DC last month to join Citibank (p12) as an art advisor, while curators Ingrid Dudek and Anne de Pietra both left museums to join Christie’s and the Spanierman Gallery, respectively, last year. At least four UK curators have also moved to the trade in the past year. These include Amin Jaffer who moved from the V&A to Christie’s in June; Emma Dexter from the Tate to Timothy Taylor Gallery in February; Ben Tufnell from the Tate and Nina Miall from the Royal Academy, both to Haunch of Venison late last year.

Directors on both sides of the Atlantic believe that these career changes, although still uncommon, represent acceptance of what was once unthinkable. Maxwell Anderson, director of the Indianapolis Museum of Art, says: “There is a blurring of what used to be clear boundaries between the museum and the trade. What has been surprising with Lisa Dennison is that the museum world is saying ‘how interesting’, not that it traduces the values of the museum.”

Why it is happening is another matter. One US director said: “Museum jobs are getting harder, with greater requirements to raise money, but salaries and professional opportunities are static.”

Not everyone says they left because of dissatisfaction. According to Ben Tufnell, 37, now a curator at Haunch of Venison in London, opportunities to develop his career—and to work with artists such as Richard Long—were major inducements. He says: “I’d been at the Tate for almost nine years, and it was time for a change. In many ways my job is very similar to my job at the Tate. The difference is that the turnaround here is much shorter and there are far fewer people involved in decision-making.”

Amin Jaffer, 38, a former curator and fundraiser at the V&A and now Christie’s international director of Asian art, says that his unusual museum role made the move to the commercial sector easier. “I was responsible for developing the museum’s strategy in India, and I found myself involved in fundraising alongside curating exhibitions. Of course, the people I worked with then are Christie’s clients now.”

Dr Jaffer says that while it would be “hypocritical” to deny that salaries are a factor, it is job satisfaction that was his main motivation. But for some curators at least, pay is an issue.

The Museums Association launched a campaign to tackle low pay for curators in 2004, and as The Art Newspaper went to press, National Museums Liverpool staff were about to strike over pay.

Stephen Snoddy, director at Walsall Art Gallery, says that the numbers of curators leaving ­public museums in the UK may well increase. “A lot of curators are finding their work increasingly bureaucratic. There are lots of government targets,” he says. “And if you make it to somewhere like the Tate you tend to find that people rarely leave, so progression is slow. You can quite understand people thinking that it might be exciting to try the commercial sector.”

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