Getting paid to collect
Roxana Marcoci at MoMA (Willie Davis)
We caught up with Roxana Marcoci, curator in the photography department at the Museum of Modern Art, to find out more about what she does and ask advice on how others can enter the art world.
Can you describe the road that led you to MoMA?
I was born in Romania, and left immediately after high school as a political dissident. I arrived in Paris as a political refugee and studied linguistics and art history at the Sorbonne. After two and a half years I immigrated to the States, and continued my studies. I got my Doctorate in modern art from the Institute of Fine Arts at NYU. I was an independent critic and curator at first, and I taught at Hunter. I came to MoMA partly because my Ph.D. sponsor was Kirk Varnedoe, who was chief curator of painting and sculpture. I loved it instantly.
I started in the painting and sculpture department and after about four-and-a-half years, moved to photography. I’ve been here 10 ½ years.
Is a Ph.D. required to become a curator?
No, there are many curators who don’t have a Ph.D. The whole discipline has changed greatly in the last two decades — now there are curatorial studies at the university level. You used to just study art history, but I still think that’s very important. You need to know history to understand contemporary art.
What makes a good curator?
You need to be curious, to read voraciously, to meet with artists and be their friends. You want to travel elsewhere in the world and see what’s out there.
How do you recommend getting into the field?
At MoMA, we have great internships. You get to meet curators from all the departments as well as members of the administration. It offers great exposure. We have spring, summer and fall internships. There are also summer and year-long paid internships that are a little harder to get.
You’ll start as a curatorial assistant and then become a curator. The assistant is sort of the liaison between the curator and the departments.
What are some of the best parts of the job?
There is no routine. The routine is the enemy of this profession. On each project, you always learn. For the historic exhibitions, you often travel to see the works in private collections, public collections and often internationally. If you work on a contemporary show, you’re going to meet the artist. And you get to have a relationship with them. Seeing the fruit of all your research in the space, and seeing 5,000-10,000 people coming a day, that’s very gratifying.
How is the pay?
This museum has probably the best-paid curators in the world, so I don’t want to complain. But in the humanities, you’ll never compete with business.
Can you walk us through the steps of curating a show?
Usually there are collection exhibitions and loan (or temporary) exhibitions. You start by researching, and make a proposal. The curatorial board — which consists of chief curators and the museum’s director — decides whether or not to do it.
Once a show is accepted, and you know the scale and the space it will take up, you’re on your own. You start doing the research, traveling, thinking about the catalog. You figure out what you want, reach out to private collectors and get in touch with other museums.
There’s one curator and one curatorial assistant on an exhibit.
What your some of the best places to view photography in the city?
You should start at MoMA. We always have the collection on view, which shows the history of photography. The Met has great shows in terms of both historic and more contemporary work. The International Center of Photography is also good. The Whitney sometimes has great ones. Also, there are numerous galleries, such as Pace/MacGill and Matthew Marks, but there are many more. The city is full of great places to see photography.
Marcoci’s upcoming shows:
Pictures by Women: A History of Modern Photography. Sections are open now and some will remain open through March 2011.
The Original Copy: Photography of Sculpture, 1839 to Today.
August 1–Nov. 1. Nearly 300 pieces will be on display from more than 100 artists.
New Photography 2010. The yearly exhibit starts every September and showcases emerging artists.