The Modern Museum

Please note this course is at capacity and no longer accepting applications. 



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.


Site Visits:
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
  • Registrars
  • 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.



Course Instructor:

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.

Term Dates

Term dates and course availability depend heavily on instructors’ schedules.

  • Term 4 Grades 10 - 12 July 21 to August 2 Term Closed

This summer, we’re offering more than 10 unique courses for Summer Institute students. Explore the full summer schedule to learn more about course dates and grade eligibility.

View Summer Schedule

What is an Intensive?

Intensives immerse students in a single subject area for the entire two-week Institute term, with the goal of cultivating comprehensive knowledge of that discipline. This thorough approach to learning enables students to develop deeper insights about the field by closely investigating its inner workings.

Course Highlights

Summer Institute enables students to dive deep into a course of study, sharpening skills for their academic and professional careers. Each course is carefully designed to suit student interests and encourage intellectual curiosity.

  • 1

    Students will visit some of the most important art museums in the United States — from large encyclopedic museums to smaller, more specialized venues — providing the opportunity to see both commonalities and differences in museum practices and displays.

  • 2

    Students will hear firsthand about the various roles that go into the production of a museum exhibition, from curators, exhibition designers, educators, and other museum professionals. Art historians and museum scholars will discuss how these roles have changed over time and continue to evolve, as well as the cultural stewardship obligations that may be associated with museums.

  • 3

    The course is ideal for students who love art and museums, or for those who might be interested in pursuing a career in museums, art history, or art criticism. Students will learn about the various professional roles within museums, from curators to educators, conservators to registrars, preparators to docents. They will also learn about the challenges that face museums, from displaying art of other cultures to issues of theft and restitution.

  • 4

    Students will examine the process that leads from an idea to the opening of an art exhibition, how permanent collections are displayed and reinterpreted, and what it takes to run a major art museum.

Summer Institute Faculty

Our instructors are award-winning Sotheby's Institute faculty, recognized thought leaders and professional experts in the art world. Each faculty member structures their course around real-time conversations defining their professions and helps students master the unique forces at play in the art world.

Summer Institute Faculty

Experience New York

  • New York City New York City

    With New York City as their campus, students will have access to all the city has to offer, attending field trips, site visits and special events.

  • Speaker Series Speaker Series

    Summer Institute students have unique opportunities to connect with the most accomplished artists and art professionals working today.

  • Housing Housing

    Summer Institute students have the option of living on campus in the university dormitories or commuting to class from their local residence.

  • Dining Dining

    University cafeteria-style dining halls serve a wide variety of healthy alternatives for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

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