About the Program
The MA Contemporary Art Program gives students the necessary intellectual and practical skills to work in the production, exhibition and sale of contemporary art. The course is anchored in the close study of visual art and critical thought since 1945, and it is accompanied by an emphasis on professional skills and study in the galleries, museums and studios of New York City and far beyond. Students are trained to be conversant with art’s objects and ideas, as well as the commercial and institutional contexts in which they are embedded.
The program teaches a contextual history of art, in which art works are viewed alongside the critical thought that accompanied them, and in the light of the major exhibitions through which they first appeared. We are committed to teaching in the field, and students are quickly immersed in New York’s art scene through regular gallery visits and privileged access to guest speakers drawn from throughout the industry. They also learn from international field study, which in recent years has taken us to Beijing and Shanghai, Venice, Dubai, Mexico City, and Havana. Students at Sotheby’s Institute come from every corner of the globe, and our approach to teaching, as well as our field study destinations, seek to demonstrate that art and its markets thrive far beyond the traditional centers of New York, Paris and London. A great many of the students begin their studies having already received some experience in galleries, museums or auctions, and that leads to rich discussions among their peers - peers who go on to become valuable colleagues in a global network of Sotheby’s Institute alumni.
The first semester’s curriculum supplies foundations in the study of objects, ideas, histories, and exhibitions. In the second semester, alongside further art historical study and a course on art world business skills, there is the opportunity for students to develop specialisms through the choice of two electives. Here, students can draw on the rich resources of the Institute’s graduate programs in Art Business and Fine and Decorative Art and Design, opening a wealth of possibilities. Those interested in working in the commercial sector can take electives in the management of galleries or auctions, the provision of finance or art advising. Those interested in curating can apply to a selective program in which students mount their own exhibitions in spaces both within the Institute and elsewhere in New York City. Students drawn to ideas and writing can pursue deeper study of art criticism and critical theory, areas that supply essential foundations for further graduate study, or for work in major collecting institutions like national museums. In making these choices, all students are guided by an individual academic advisor who helps match their interests and career goals with appropriate courses of study.
The MA in Contemporary Art culminates in a capstone project, which can take the form of a traditional, long-form academic thesis, or a more flexible Master’s Project. The Master’s Project can take a multitude of forms, being a fully developed business plan or a proposal for a curatorial project, a design for a tech innovation or the establishment of a foundation or museum. Students undertaking the thesis or Master’s Project can choose to submit their work in the summer and thereby complete their studies within one year. Alternatively, they can extend their studies into the fall and either transfer to the Institute’s campuses in London or Los Angeles, or return to New York and pursue core courses in either Art Business or Fine and Decorative Art and Design.
Access a copy of the 2019-20 New York Master's Degree Curriculum and course descriptions.
In the spring semester, students have the opportunity to mount an exhibition in our landmark Art Deco General Electric building in midtown Manhattan. This takes place as part of the course “Curating Contemporary Art”. Admission to this popular elective is by special application.
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