Ask the Art Prof: How do Art Museums Select Visual Artists to Exhibit?

ART DARES
Every month, we assign a topic for you to respond to with an artwork. We give out prizes in several categories, and post select artworks on our Instagram throughout the month. Use #artprofwip and Prof Clara Lieu might just stop by and give you some feedback! We have a special prize for art teachers who assign the Art Dare to one of their classes. More info on Art Dares is here.

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“How do museums select artists to exhibit? How do museums go about the process of finding artwork to place in their permanent collections? What is museum quality artwork?”

Museums have curators who are in charge of selecting artists to exhibit. Curators are also responsible for finding works to place in their permanent collections. In addition to their own research, recommendations for artists and specific works are made to curators by other curators, dealers, collectors, and artists they know. Curators actively attend galleries, museums, artist lectures, art fairs, and other contemporary art venues as a means of searching for artists and specific works.

From the point of view of a contemporary working artist, the museum venue can feel nearly impossible to access.  You can’t apply to be in a museum exhibition/collection, and it can take many years before you’ve positioned yourself correctly for the right curator to even notice you.  Then to get to the point that you’ve developed enough of a relationship with the curator to be placed in the collection is even tougher, and even more difficult than that is to be placed in a museum exhibition. You have to be at the absolute top of the food chain to be a contemporary artist showing at a major museum.

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Comparatively speaking, it’s actually “easier” to have your work accepted into a museum’s permanent collection. Many of my colleagues have works in several notable museum collections, and I myself have an intaglio print (see below) in the Hood Art Museum at Dartmouth College. How did I get that work into the collection? A print collector who saw my work at a local exhibition purchased, recommended, and donated my work to the curator there.

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“Line”, aquatint & drypoint, Clara Lieu, Digging

When a curator is interested in an artist for an exhibition or for a permanent collection, they will request a studio visit to view and discuss the work in person with the artist. Personally, I get absolutely giddy when a curator asks for a studio visit. The request for a studio visit is a signal that you’ve piqued that curator’s interest enough for them to want to examine your work more closely. The studio visits I’ve had in the past certainly had a range of different outcomes:  on one occasion I was flat out rejected by an art dealer, another curator I never heard back from, and one studio visit was followed up by another by the same curator two years later. Still, I take it as a huge compliment any time I get a request for a studio visit, regardless of what happens afterwards.

In progress

In my opinion, museum quality work is work that talks about contemporary issues, yet is timeless.  The work should be contemporary through its content, technique, and material.   The treatment of the materials and approach to the technique in the work should be innovative, new, and impeccable.  Works in a museum should be able to stand on their own, without the need to be accompanied by excessive verbal explanation to be understood.

Accessibility to people across cultures is highly important as well; the work should be able to make an impact on a viewer irregardless of their background. Museum works go beyond simply having a visual experience, the works should stimulate thinking in the viewer, deal with tough topics, and address issues of contemporary concern.


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Portfolio Video Critiques for Art Students & Artists
Prof Clara Lieu offers 30 minute video critiques on 8-20 artworks for students working on a portfolio for art school admission, and for artists of any age working on their artwork. Watch a sample below, and get more info here.


ART DARES
Every month, we assign a topic for you to respond to with an artwork. We give out prizes in several categories, and post select submissions on our Instagram  and other sites throughout the month. Use #artprofwip and Prof Clara Lieu might just stop by and give you some feedback! We have a special prize for art teachers who assign the Art Dare to one of their classes. More info is here.


Ask the Art Prof Live was a weekly live video broadcast on our Facebook page where Prof Clara Lieu provided professional advice for art students and professional artists. Ask the Art Prof began as a written column in 2013 and was featured in the Huffington Post from 2013-2015.  See the full archive of columns here. Prof Lieu discussed being an artist today, art technique & materials, work strategies for artists, career advice, teaching art, and more.


Related Videos
Youtube Playlist: Video Critiques on Art School Admissions Portfolios
Youtube Playlist:  How to Draw a Portrait with Charcoal and Cross-Hatching
Youtube Playlist:  Crit Quickies, 1 min. critiques on artworks


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