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7AAIAM05 Museum Curating Now: Behind the Scenes at the Tate

Module convenorDr Ruth Adams in partnership with Tate Public Programmes. Led by a guest tutor.

Credits: 20
Teaching pattern: Ten three-hour sessions held at Tate

Module description:

What does the practice of contemporary curating mean in an international arts institution like Tate? What is the role of a curator, and how do curators negotiate between the wide range of social, political, and economic factors that shape the context within which they operate? What are the decisions, strategies, and approaches that inform and shape the work of curators today?

This module considers the ways in which curators at Tate develop, manage, and engage with the Collection, temporary exhibitions, events, and arts projects within the current global climate, while responding to diverse institutional and non-institutional contexts, histories, as well as geo-political and social conditions.

Course participants develop a critical understanding of contemporary curating practices through a behind-the-scenes look at the ‘management’ role of curators across a diverse range of the museum’s activity. Across the eleven weeks, participants learn about the different curatorial models in place at the Tate in relation to the permanent collection, exhibition organisation, event management, and audience development. Tate serves as the main case study for this course; however, references and examples of other curatorial models from various private and public arts organisations in the UK and internationally will be brought in for comparative discussion by the tutor. 

Draft teaching syllabus

Week 1: Introduction to the Course

Week 2: How to be a Curator

Week 3: Curating Exhibitions: Concept and Research

Week 4: The Collection: What’s on Display

Week 5: Learning and Audiences

Week 6: Planning and Sustainability

Week 7: The Collection: Behind the Scenes

Week 8: Working with Artists

Week 9: Curating ‘Liveness’

Week 10: Conclusion

Please note that this is an indicative syllabus only, based on the schedule for 2016-17.  Although the core themes of the module remain constant, the specific content will change from year to year to respond to changes in the institution and the availability of guest speakers.

Learning outcomes

By the end of the module, the participants will be able to demonstrate intellectual, transferable, and practical skills appropriate to a Level 7 module and in particular will be able to:

  • Understand what is involved in the practice of curation, especially those relating to the management of permanent collection displays, exhibition organisation, event management, and audience development, both within Tate Modern and in other public and private arts institutions.
  • Critically assess the potential impact of different and varied influences on curatorial practice, being able to engage critically with debates affecting Tate’s programme, locally, nationally, and internationally.
  • Question the extent to which models of curatorial practice and related skills are fit for purpose, given the need to take account of global changes affecting the arts & cultural field in general.
  • Prepare participants to contribute to the future of the art museum profession, through the development of an active and critical engagement with the Tate’s collection, exhibitions, and events programme, and ‘behind-the-scenes’ understanding as to how these are curated and managed.

Core reading

  • Desvallées, A. and Mairesse, F. (eds) (2010) Key Concepts of Museology. Paris: Armand Colin. Available at: glais_BD.pdf (Accessed: 5 October 2015).
  • Fisher, J. (ed.) (1994) Global Visions: Towards a New Internationalism in the Visual Arts. London: Third Text Publications.
  • Greenberg, R., Ferguson, B. W. and Nairne, S. (eds) (1996) Thinking About Exhibitions. London: Routledge.
  • Hoare, N. et al., 2016. The New Curator, London: Laurence King
Marincola, P. (ed.) (2006) What Makes a Great Exhibition? Philadelphia, PA: Philadelphia
  • Exhibitions Initiative.
  • McClellan, A. (ed.) (2003) Art and Its Publics: Museum Studies at the Millennium. Oxford: Blackwell.
  • Möntmann, N. (ed.) (2006) Art and its Institutions: Current Conflicts, Critique and Collaborations. London: Black Dog.
  • Morris, F. (ed.) (2010) Tate Modern: The Handbook 10th Anniversary Edition. London: Tate.
  • Obrist, H.-U. (2008) A Brief History of Curating. Zurich: JRP Ringier.
  • O’Neill, P. (ed.) (2007) Curating Subjects. London: Open Editions.
  • Rand, S. and Kouris, H. (eds) (2007) Cautionary Tales: Critical Curating. New York: apexart.
  • Schubert, K. (2009) The Curator’s Egg: The Evolution of the Museum Concept from the French Revolution to the Present Day. 3rd edn. London: One-Off Press.
  • Sharmacharja, S. (ed.) (2009) A Manual for the 21st Century Art Institution. London: Whitechapel and Koenig Books.
  • Vergo, P. (ed.) (1989) The New Museology. London: Reaktion.
  • Weibel, P. and Buddensieg, A. (eds) (2007) Contemporary Art and the Museum: A Global Perspective. Ostfildern: Hatje Cantz.


1 x 4,000 word essay (100%) 

Students are reassessed in the failed elements of assessment and by the same methods as the first attempt.

Selection Process

If you who wish to be considered for this module, you will need to submit your CV and answer the questions on the online application form which can be found here. You must only complete this form once, and you will be notified of your place on the module during induction week.

 The modules run in each academic year are subject to change in line with staff availability and student demand so there is no guarantee every module will run. Module descriptions and information may vary depending between years.

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