Investigate the role of the art museum in contemporary western society and learn about its influence in the digital age.
This course will explore the history, influence, and role of the art museum from its origins in ancient temples displaying the spoils of wars, to Renaissance cabinets of curiosity, to developments in post-Revolutionary France, to the rise of the modern art museum, so well represented in New York today.
Students will consider such questions as: Should museums produce shows that provide opportunities for critical thinking and open dialogue? Do museums play a role in strengthening democracy and promoting debate? How are museums responding to the digital age, and what should museums be doing to ensure their continued relevance? What role is played in the art world by major museum events, such as the Whitney Biennial? What role is played by museums during times of war (real wars vs. culture wars)?
Students will learn about the stewardship obligations associated with museums. They will examine critically how museums create narratives through the display of works of art, including the choice of what gets included or excluded from such narratives. Students will look at whether being displayed in a museum alters a work’s meaning, and they will explore how museums can respectfully display works from diverse periods and cultures. In going behind the scenes and speaking with museum professionals, students will investigate how issues, such as museum architecture, exhibition design, and curatorial practice all contribute to our understanding not only of works of art but also of ourselves and our perceptions of global cultures.
Visits will include a broad range of important New York art museums from large, encyclopedic museums to smaller, more specialized venues.
Site visits may include:
- The Metropolitan Museum of Art
- The Museum of Modern Art
- The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum
- The Frick Collection
- The Brooklyn Museum
- The Noguchi Museum
- The Neue Gallerie
- The Whitney Biennial
Guest Speakers and Lecturers:
Students will hear firsthand about what goes into the research, design, and hanging of a major exhibition at an important art museum, and how permanent collections are researched, arranged, and displayed.
Guest speakers may include:
- Museum curators
- Exhibition designers
- Art critics
- Art historians
- Museum scholars
Materials Fee: $250
Please note: This information is subject to change at any time at the discretion of Sotheby’s Institute of Art.
Alexandra Schwartz is a New York-based independent curator and scholar of modern and contemporary art. Her recent and upcoming exhibitions include As in Nature: Helen Frankenthaler Paintings at the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts (Summer 2017), with a catalogue from Yale University Press, and American Histories, a group show of contemporary figurative drawing at Pi Artworks London (Fall 2016). Until 2016, she was the founding curator of contemporary art at the Montclair Art Museum. Her exhibition Come as You Are: Art of the 1990s toured nationally in 2015–16, and was accompanied by a major catalogue from the University of California Press. At Montclair she also organized exhibitions of Sanford Biggers, Jean Shin, Dannielle Tegeder, and Saya Woolfalk, among others; and spearheaded major commissions and acquisitions by artists including Mark Dion, Spencer Finch, Sheila Hicks, Hank Willis Thomas, and Kara Walker. Previously she was a curator at the Museum of Modern Art, where her exhibitions included Mind and Matter: Alternative Abstractions, 1940s to Now and Modern Women: Single Channel at MoMA PS1. She is the author of Ed Ruscha’s Los Angeles (MIT Press, 2010), the co-editor of Modern Women: Women Artists at The Museum of Modern Art, and the editor of Leave Any Information at the Signal: Writings, Interviews, Bits, Pages by Ed Ruscha (MIT Press, 2002). Her catalogues have twice won Awards for Excellence from the Association of Art Museum Curators (2010 and 2016). Schwartz has taught at Columbia University, the University of Michigan, the School of Visual Arts, Sotheby’s Institute of Art, Montclair State University, MoMA, and the Whitney Museum of American Art. She received a B.A. from Harvard University and an M.A. and Ph.D. from the University of Michigan.