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What's a Curator?
Every art museum has one but few people really know what they do. Usually they're second in command to the museum's director. He or she is called a curator. Aside from the obvious response that they "curate," what does one of these people do? Well, if one wanted to be flip, you could say they "cure" problems and "rate" art, which might be a good way to remember, but still a little vague. I suppose it's best to think of a curator as an educator of sorts, the person in charge of seeing that what the museum displays serves a higher purpose than merely decorating the walls or heightening the prestige of the institution by showcasing big names. The curator's job is to help the viewer make sense of it all. Typically, works are grouped by style, content, or chronologically, or by artist, or school, or by some social theme.

Beyond these obvious methods, the curator tries to teach how the works of art relate to one another in ways not always obvious to others. And if his or her facility lacks important items in order to do this, then it's the curator's responsibility to try and beg, borrow, or buy them from a museum that doesn't. And this is where curating gets complicated. Such borrowed works are typically only loaned for a relatively short time, usually six to eight weeks. Thus, if the curator wants to make some kind of artistic statement and can't do it with in-house items, then it's necessary to organise a temporary display to do so. And this is how we come to have various titled shows or exhibitions. Moreover, since there is a lot of logistical, physical, promotional, diplomatic, and legal work involved in mounting such an extravaganza (and some of them rise to epic proportions) then it's a shame to simply put it up, pump it up, open it up, serve the wine and cheese, then close the thing down six weeks later. So, a decision is made to "share the wealth" and the show goes on the road, sometimes with more than a half-dozen different museum stops across the country, even around the world, often lasting many months, even years.

Contributed by Lane, Jim
22 July 2000

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