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Wang Chunchen: MoMA’s Curatorial Procedures...

2011-12-26 550 people interested

MoMA has a large audience everyday. People speak different languages are attracted by its fame. Therefore, the guide map of MoMA is written in several languages, and the staff have to engage in public communciation with the multilingual audience.Today MoMA's high worldwide popularity and reputation today cannot be separated from its publicity determined at the beginning of its establishment.MoMA is a private art museum, but this is simply because it was built with private investment. It is not a private property, but an art gallery built based on an individual’s love of art. It has set up a director board, established various fund-raising mechanisms and set up seven departments classified by media. But its Education Department and Development Department are the upper and lower links in the extension and preparation of its exhibition projects. All the activities are targeted at the public, not for private parties or gatherings of refined scholars. All the art museums claim that they are communal and public-facing, but why do art museums such as MoMA have achieved such social impact? There must be some inevitable logic and procedures involved.Previously, I did not understand why foreign art museums have developed into such a status,and I assumed it was due to historical factors. However, this explanation made no sense. As I visited more muesums and communicated with more relevant personnel, it became more and more clear that it was the social system that ensured the museums to exist and develop, instead of the museum’s own independent operation or self-sufficiency. Art museum is a public platform. It can only build and develop based on the society’s support and approval. This kind of management and operation of art museum It is because the society has a strong identification with and sense of value of public cultural institutions that this kind of museum management and operation can exist, that the museums can obtain such social support and legal system to support the survival and development of relevant cultural mechanisms. If we ignore the support and framework of legal systems when we learn about art museums in the United States, it’s impossible to build an art museum by relying solely on the state financial allocation.On the premise of people’s high recognition of social culture and education, the law provides tax exemption and reduction for the act of donating artworks to and sponsoring art museums. With this legal measure of income redistribution, people from all ranks of society have the motivation and enthusiasm to support the society’s common cultural undertakings, as well as a sense of honor and social participation. Because the development of art museums and the holding of exhibitions are supported and sponsored by social citizens and companies, it is equivalent to using the image power of culture and art to integrate different social groups, communities and different interest groups, and to reflecting the publicity of society in an artistic way. Any cultural idealism will be difficult to fulfill without such a social legal framework. The development of modern society takes society as one unit. This social unit is not only a group, an enterprise, a foundation, but also an individual, and modern countries highly trust and authorize this social unit. For example, the U.S government does not have a Ministry of Culture or a Publicity Department to take charge of the cultural and artistic undertakings. Instead,it allows members of society to operate these activities. This is the relationship between a small government and a large society. This is what we mean by putting the country first. The country only provides legal framework, and it’s provided by the country in the form of law, instead of government. The government is only a social service unit, an institution that p rovides support and services to many other social units. Therefore, the government tries to make different social units to work on such cultural and artistic activities by themselves, which allows government institutions to focus only on the implementation of social public administration. Therefore, there appear a variety of corporate and individual foundations. Corporate companies and individuals allocate a percentage of their wealth to the foundation annually as an art fund. For example, Bill Gates of Microsoft donated his own property and established a foundation to sponsor various social public utilities, including collecting artworks, sponsoring cultural institutions, sponsoring cultural art and academic research, etc. The United States is filled with foundations. Many big families, enterprises, individuals, and even artists have established their own foundations. When we visit an important art exhibition, we will notice that it is supported by various companies, foundations and individuals. This enables art projects and exhibitions to be executed and implemented, and ensures the solemnity and high standard of cultural and artistic projects.In MoMA, when curators from different departments (MoMA has 40 curators) present their exhibition plans, they would first report to their own department’s Chief Curator, then to MoMA’s exhibition committee after Chief Curator approved of it. This committee is composed of around 20 people, including MoMA's Director, Deputy Director, Chief Curators of all Departments, the Education Department and the Development Department. Every two months they hold a regular meeting. At the meeting, the curator of the proposed exhibition would make a presentation for about 20 minutes. The main theme, program design, time, required exhibition hall and budget are supposed to be introduced to the committee. During the presentation, committee members will ask questions that the proposer need to respond to, especially questions regarding the budget. At the same time, the Education[2]  Department will raise issues in terms of public education. If the exhibition also involves publications (such as exhibition catalogue, research publications, etc.), the proposing curator should also report the cost of the publication to the committee, such as number of pages, size of the book, how many articles will be included, resume of the authors to invite and reasons for inviting them (for example professionalism of a certain research field, or academic ability of the writer), cost arrangement, etc. After the meeting, the proposer will exit and the main decision-makers of the committee (approximately 8-10 people) will decide if this exhibition proposal should be accepted or not.Once the exhibition is approved, the Development Department will choose the foundations or institutions to seek sponsorship from based on the fund-raising resources and targets. Those people who have been dealing with sponsors for a long time know how to write sponsorship proposals, which institutions will be interested in what types of exhibitions, how to help their sponsors gain reputation and good public image. On the other hand, the Education Department create public education events according to the exhibition, such as activities, exhibition guide (including single-page and fold-page guide, posters, audio guide, introduction materials in different languages), lectures, relevant films, relevant educational programs (aimed at students of different ages and social families), etc. They will also propose the rhetoric of text according to the public’s habits, avoiding excessive academic vocabulary and unfamiliar vocabulary, so as to make the exhibition guide more understandable and acceptable by the educated, general public. After the exhibition proposal was approved, the proposing curator should do sufficient research, write text, analyze the exhibition context and organize works to exhibit from the museum’s own collection or other collections (it takes a lot of time to discuss the feasibility of borrowing works, if there are any replaceable works, insurance and logistics, etc.). After all of these are prepared, the materials will be handed over to MoMA’s Publications Department to design the catalogue and organize the printing work. The catalogue should be completed before the opening of the exhibition, and the promotion work should also be done by then. They spent a lot of energy on research during the preparing process, to make certain where to find the works, to have a thorough grasp of the exhibition's core concept, and to invite writers to write about the exhibition. Each curator usually has two to three exhibition projects carried out at the same time. The exhibition period generally last one to two years. The assistant curator would do some basic tasks such as data arrangement and research support, etc.MoMA’s exhibition planning and preparation works and a series of public education programs following the opening of the exhibition are conducted according to a set of stipulated procedures, which are rigorous and orderly, positive and effective. The  Education Department organizes all kinds of programs and activities according to the exhibition, and gather feedbacks from the visitors, so as to put public service in the first place. They need to not only prepare all kinds of introduction materials for the visitors to access easily, but also maintain the order of the exhibition site strictly, such as having staff to inform the audience in the case when photography is not allowed in some special exhibitions. The exhibition staff wear uniform clothes and badges with their name and photos on, neat and solemn, and distinguished from the audience. They need to inform  and help the audience, and pay attention to their behaviors to prevent them from touching exhibits and maintain the safety of the exhibition site. Usually there are instruction boards at the entrance to inform people the maximum capacity of a certain exhibition hall. If the  visitor number exceeds the maximum capacity, the staff would inform the audience to wait in the queue, and remain orderly and quiet. The exhibition staff are part of the museum crew. They are responsible for the audience’s entry and exit and the exhibitions’ opening and close. Their behaviors and images are the important image of the museum, modest, polite, serious, responsible, and graceful. These tiny details exactly reflect their professionalism. I don’t know when some Chinese art museums started to hire staff from the outside property companies, but this operation needs to be further discussed in terms of museum management, understanding of museum’s functions, and the museum’s long-term development. When the audience enters the museum, except for the museum architecture and the exhibited works, it is the staff at the exhibition site that they directly meet and contact with. So the staff's behaviors actually represent the image of the museum, and the publicity of the museum is reflected through them first-hand. Although they don’t speak most of the time, their influences cannot be underestimated.MoMA is divided into different departments by medium, so that works of different categories are collected by different departments. The Photography Department keeps its collections next to its office. Entry and exit require unlocking the door, with the room   kept at a low temperature.There are 24,000 works in the photography collection, sorted into different categories and placed in steel cabinets. Color photography is placed in freezers and wrapped with tin foils. Curators of Photography Department can access the collections for daily research, and there are workbenches and lamps, which is very convenient. Other departments also collect works separately. In addition, MoMA has a separate collection storage in the Queens for large-scale works.MoMA’s archival collection is also very complete. Whenever an exhibition is over, all departments should arrange archives and submit to the Museum Archives Department for future reference and research. MoMA’s Education and Research Center also has a rich collection of books, catalogues and materials for MoMA’s researchers to access. It’s also very convenient for the public to refer to upon appointment. The museum’s publicity is also reflected on the accessibility of books and other materials to the public.In the past, art museums were mainly object-based, and the most important job was to collect works and take good care of them. But now art museums are more people-oriented, and focus more on how to serve the audience well. There has been a great concept revolution which has led to changes in the design and daily management of art museums. New ideas and methods have thus been developed, which makes art museums more and more friendly and socially cohesive. We could say that art museums are a sublime cultural platform and a symbol of social civilization in today’s developed countries. All museum staff enjoy a social status that is admired and respected.                                              New York, November 17, 2011Published in the December 2011 issue of Oriental Art MasterTranslated by Wang WeiweiProofread by Lu YufanEdited by Zheng Lijun ...More

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