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Collaborative Curating

Posted By Anna O. Marley, Curator of Historical American Art, PAFA, Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Blog entry, Collaborative Curating, AAMC conference, 2011


Anna O. Marley, Curator of Historical American Art, PAFA


Having just collaboratively curated the exhibition Anatomy/Academy at my institution (Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts) with my fellow curators Bob Cozzolino (Curator of Modern Art) and Julien Robson (Curator of Contemporary Art) I was especially eager to attend this panel. The range of exhibitions and collaborations presented was impressive, and having seen two of the collaborations first hand – the Charles Burchfield exhibition and the Philagrafika Festival – I know how successful and inspiring were the results of these collaborations. I was less impressed with the format of the panel, which I found did not really embody the spirit of the collaboration. One curator from each project presented on their experience, and these presentations were so cursory (while at the same time running over their allotted speaking time) that they merely served as introductions and overviews of the exhibitions, rather than a real engagement with the challenges and benefits of the collaborative experience. I would rather there were fewer projects discussed – there were five panelists and projects – and more of the collaborative partners involved in each exhibition to share their experiences. For example, I was fascinated by the process of a curator and an artist creating an exhibition together, as was the case with Bob Gober and Cynthia Burlingham, but I felt the panel only showed us the curator’s perspective, rather than how the artist and the curator worked together to create such a visual sumptuous and intellectually satisfying exhibition and catalog. How did the artist feel about working with the curator? Likewise, how did the filmmaker David Grubin benefit from working with the Asia Society Museum? What reactions did he have to working with museum staff, and what can museums learn from documentary filmmakers? Whereas many of the other panels, such as innovative conservation methods and developing donor cultivation confidence, offered concrete advice for how to face and surmount conservation and fundraising challenges, I did not leave collaborative curating with any sense of the best practices in the field. Perhaps next year a similar panel can be convened, with fewer projects presented, and more focus on the nuts and bolts of working collaboratively outside the curatorial ranks.

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