Can non-Curators direct museums?

April 26 2017

Image of Can non-Curators direct museums?

Picture: Apollo

Apollo Magazine has asked Sir Nick Penny and Robert Hewison to explore whether museum directors must have curatorial experience to be able to do the job properly. Hewison and Penny don't respectively argue 'yes' or 'no', but Hewison is not entirely convinced curators have all the answers, shall we say:

There is a tendency for curators, because they handle precious objects, to become precious themselves. The object is all, and the public a menace. The costive curator sits on the collection, thwarts loan requests, and would really prefer it if the public, like the collection, were kept in the dark. (Even worse is the controlling conservator, who must be wooed to surrender objects, literally, to the light of day.) Curators sometimes seem to be academics who hate people.

I completely agree about the 'controlling conservator', who these days wield far too much power, and would rather pictures remain untouched, unmoved, and unseen, usually in darkened storage rooms.

Penny is worried by instances of what he calls 'impresario curators':

It has often been argued that senior administrators are better qualified than traditional curators to serve as museum directors, but nowadays the trend is to appoint impresario curators, preferably those who are comfortable with contemporary art and, if a new building is planned, have some confidence in dealing with architects. Directors with no curatorial experience and without the related expert knowledge of art tend to diminish the value of such experience and expertise out of their own insecurity. The results can often be devastating, even if, being of little interest to journalists, whose attention is usually focused on the exhibitions programme, they generally go unnoticed by the public.

Both articles are well worth reading in full, which you can do here. As ever, I'm always interested to hear AHNers thoughts. 

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