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Curatorial Cooperation and Collaboration by Amber Ludwig, PhD

Posted By Amber Ludwig, Wednesday, June 6, 2012

As in years past, the idea of curatorial collaboration was a common thread that wove itself through the 2012 AAMC annual meeting.  The opening keynote conversation between Helen Molesworth, Barbara Lee Chief Curator at the Institute of Contemporary Art, and James S. Snyder, Anne and Jerome Fisher Director of the Israel Museum, introduced the broad idea of interdisciplinary cooperation, in particular the fusing of art history and contemporary artistic practice.  Such a fusion, the two speakers agreed, would revolutionize museum practices with the past being employed to explain the present and the present helping to make the past more relevant for museum audiences. 


The rest of the conference’s first day continued the theme of curatorial collaboration with two panels that focused on shifting taxonomies within the museum and physical expansion, respectively.  In Give and Take: Shifting Collection Boundaries in the 21st-Century Museum, senior museum professionals Marla Berns, Emily Ballew Neff, and Matthew Witkovsky encouraged and challenged their curatorial colleagues to communicate across departments to build new connections between seemingly dissimilar objects.  In the afternoon session, Expanded or Reconfigured Spaces, Elliot Bostwick Davis of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston and Jim Labeck of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum presented on their recently completed building campaigns, while Deborah Martin Kao of the Harvard Art Museums spoke of the ongoing renovation at her institution.  All participants offered advice and anecdotes for those curators and institutions undergoing expansion or reinstallation of collections.


The following day’s Curatorial Short Courses created another opportunity for curators to learn from each other through shared experiences.  Chiyo Ishikawa of the Seattle Art Museum, Mark Scala of the Frist Center for the Visual Arts, and Laurie Winters of the Milwaukee Art Museum provided specific advice for managing exhibitions and negotiating loans.  Both topics are important curatorial responsibilities, and junior curators benefited from hearing how senior curatorial staff handle these duties on an institutional and personal level.  Likewise, the short courses provided senior curators with a chance to reevaluate their own current practices.


From my perspective—a curatorial assistant with a newly-minted PhD working in an institution that is currently experiencing the excitement and complexities associated with a museum merger—the topics covered at this year’s AAMC annual meeting provided ample opportunity to think about the future of the Honolulu Museum of Art (HMA).  Having recently merged with The Contemporary Museum (TCM), the HMA is working to incorporate contemporary art into its exhibition program.  We are also at a crossroads with more practical issues, like exhibition management, since both TCM and HMA brought their own policies and procedures into the merge.  The AAMC annual meeting allowed me to hear from other curators facing similar issues and helped eased the sense of isolation one can have when working in a geographically isolated part of the world. 

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