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How to Establish a Career as an Art Curator: An Ultimate Guide

Career as an Art Curator

Are you an Art enthusiast? Do you love visiting art galleries, museums or exhibitions? Have you always dreamt of working in any one of these? Are you someone who can easily tell the difference if a painting is not an original piece of work? Can you look at a painting and tell us whether it is Van Gogh’s or it is Pablo Picasso’s? Is there a hidden artist in you who wants to take the responsibility of working in a museum or art gallery? If you think you are a multi-tasker and can arrange various exhibitions and art commissions or can deal with artists’ requirements, then you are ready to know more about what does an Art Curator do and where they do. Read on to know about this career!

Art Curators are responsible for assembling, cataloging, managing and presenting/displaying artistic and cultural collections. The Art curators are involved in buying exhibits, organizing exhibitions, arranging the restoration of artifacts, and identifying and recording items. As an Art curator, you would also keep a track of inventories & collections, and oversee research on art pieces such as analysis of paintings to determine its origin and authenticity.

Why become an Art Curator?

Art Curators are the collectors, exhibitors, interpreters, and conservers of various works of art of aesthetic and historical importance primarily in museums, art galleries, libraries, and private collections. These art forms are not limited to paintings, sculptures, ceramics, pottery, and murals only but also include modern artworks such as digital art, digital paintings, installation art, lighting design, photography, etc.

What would you do as an Art Curator?

As an Art Curator, you would be involved in various activities such as creating and labeling exhibitions, keeping a track of inventories & collections, and overseeing research on art pieces such as analysis of paintings to determine its origin and authenticity.

Art Curating is all about weeding out the copies of artwork, understanding art, putting it together, and exhibiting it to a larger audience. As an Art Curator, you should be able to understand art, its various genres, forms, and its significance over time; you should be able to present and explain its meaning to various audience such as art critics, art dealers, and viewers.

You will understand the various genres of art

You as an Art Curator should know about the various genres of art history. If someone shows you paintings from the late 18th century then you should have a deep knowledge of the Renaissance and the Romantic period. For instance, if you are presenting Edvard Munch’s painting, the scream, to the public, then you should have a deep understanding of Expressionist art history, its origin and how the painting was a reflection of the impact and destruction by the World Wars.

You will understand art, in-depth

Art Curators should have an in-depth knowledge of the artists and their artwork. For example, they should be able to spot a difference between the works of Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa or Vincent van Gogh’s The Starry Night, their use of brush strokes or even the colors and textures. These two are one of the most famous painters of all times and their paintings have been studied and researched by various art critics and subject specialists. An Art Curator’s responsibility is then to have a detailed understanding of the art they are dealing with and how it differs from other artists and why.

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Imagine what would have happened if the painters like Pablo Picasso, Claude Monet, Vincent Van Gogh, Pieter Brueghel, Edouard Manet, and many other artists’ work would never been produced to the understanding of the public. Imagine what would have happened if Indian folk art and classical paintings were never studied or the history of Art had never been understood. We can’t imagine, right? Well, that’s because we have Art Curators who are not only hired to care for a museum or a gallery but also are specialists; who study and research these subject areas thoroughly.

Do you remember the little side notes and additional information below the paintings in art exhibitions/galleries? They are all written, researched and studied by Art Curators. They act as a mediator between the audience and the artwork they are presenting.

You will conserve and protect historic work of art

The job of an Art Curator is also to conserve and protect the historic arts and retain them for the future. To preserve famous artworks the Art Curators use user interface software like Art systems Collections, FileMaker Pro, Microsoft Access, Vernon Systems Limited Vernon CMS, etc. With the advancement in technology, this software have made it even more convenient to retain digital copies of these artworks and helped art curators to save them for a longer period of time.

A brief overview of digital art, digital painting and installation art:

Digital art is artwork that is produced using digital technology as part of the presentation process. Digital art is usually computer-generated or taken from other sources such as a scanned photograph or image drawn using graphics software and are viewed through perspective projection (is a type of drawing that graphically estimates on a two-dimensional surface) on an electronic visual display.

Digital Painting is an art form in which the traditional methods of painting such as watercolor, oils, impasto, etc. are applied using digital tools by means of a computer and graphic software. The artists use digital painting software such as Corel Painter, Adobe Photoshop, ArtRage, GIMP, Krita, and open Canvas, etc. which gives them the platform to use the traditional style like oils, acrylics, pastels, charcoal, pen and even media such as airbrushing in their artworks.

Installation art is a type of three-dimensional artwork that is designed to transform the perception of space and is usually site-specific (artwork that exists in a certain place). These days artists are able to explore more about the ways they represent and place their artworks which usually includes virtual reality as a medium i.e. immersive virtual reality art.

  1. Curator (Painting): Curators of Paintings are responsible for acquiring, collecting, and cataloging (listing) works of art in art museums and galleries. They usually perform all the major activities of relocating, framing, and positioning the artworks and also conduct extensive research on their specialized subject areas. Most of the curators are specialized in one of the many subject areas: Contemporary art, Modern art, Impressionist Art, European Art, American Art, Expressionistic art etc.
  2. Curator (Digital art/Installation Art): Curators of Digital art are responsible for projecting and displaying art using a digital medium. They look after the ways through which the artwork can be digitally projected/displayed and stored. They are involved in using projection techniques that enhance an audience’s impression of sensory experience, and many digital installations attempt to create immersive environments.
  3. Curator (Sculpture): Curators of Sculpture are responsible for research, exhibitions and acquisitions related to the museum’s sculpture collections. These professionals specialize in various public art and monuments, the history of materials and methods. They are also involved in the preservation, research and study of age-old sculptures, their significance and their history. They deal with collections on Western European Sculpture, 19th-century Indian sculpture and history, or some small-scale contemporary sculptures dated back in history.
  4. Curator (Ceramics): Curators of Ceramics, Metals & Glass look after the stained and painted glass, painted enamels on copper and other materials of ancient history. The professionals in this specialized field study and research ancient collections that spans mainly medieval to contemporary times. Their focus areas range from ancient pottery to vintage copper materials.
  5. Curator (Craft): Craft Curators are involved in the planning and organizing of craft exhibitions and events. They work towards creating ways in which craft can be reorganized, rethought and re-made. They usually engage with local and skilled workers, research, study and examine various ancient handicrafts, decorative arts and studio arts (such as: pottery, weaving, woodturning or metal work etc.).

What does Art Curator do?

As an Art Curator, you would be involved in the following key roles and responsibilities:

  • You would create the collection of a museum, art gallery, etc. You would also research on the art market to know what’s available among various collectors, auction houses, and art dealers, what may not be yet in the market, but somebody holds it as a personal collection, or who might put together an installation work or digital artwork.
  • You would get in touch with the collectors, artists, artwork owners, and others; you will participate in auctions (mostly along with an art dealer), to initiate a talk of sales. You along with Art Dealer would also be involved in negotiating with art owners and other dealers.
  • You would be involved in acquiring, collecting, and cataloging (listing) works of art, as well as ensuring their overall care.
  • You would create gallery presentations that are aesthetically impressive and support an excellent visitor experience.
  • You would be involved in the art community by publishing research and information to journals, catalogs, and books.
  • You would be responsible for updating information about the art market and in-depth knowledge of the collections and exhibitions you manage.
  • You would collaborate extensively with cross-departmental teams to present exhibitions, both original and borrowed, that are rigorous and visitor-centric.
  • You will conduct research on the collections, recommend acquisitions, develop relationships with collectors, engage deeply with clients and understand their preferences and demands and provide access to art in ways that foster new scholarship, creative thought, and critical dialogue around today’s pressing cultural, political, and social questions.
  • You will be innovative in your approach to engage audiences and be responsive to what the community needs. You will produce presentations, materials, and exhibitions that are inclusive, accessible, welcoming, and relevant.
  • You would also perform administrative duties such as participating in the construction and tracking of exhibition budgets and participating on cross-departmental teams for exhibitions and other museum initiatives.
  • You would research, develop and collaborate with museum and faculty colleagues to organize and present compelling installations of the permanent collection, as well as ambitious traveling exhibitions of varying scope; develop related programming, including lectures, symposia, and other educational programs.
  • You would work with the exhibitions team to coordinate project budgets, assisting in the development, preparation, and supervising of exhibition budgets.

How to become an Art Curator – eligibility criteria

After completing class 11-12 with any subject as per the scheme of studies, you can pursue a Bachelor’s degree in any of the following fields and get a work opportunity. You may also do a Master’s degree and look for an opportunity. Some Curators join work after a Ph.D. degree. You may do a Bachelor’s/ Master’s/ Doctoral degree in any of the following fields to become an Art Curator:

  • Ancient History & Archaeology
  • Animation Design
  • Animation Film Design
  • Anthropology
  • Applied Art
  • Archaeology
  • Art Appreciation
  • Calligraphy
  • Ceramic and Glass Design
  • Conservation and Restoration of Art
  • Contemporary Art
  • Craft Design
  • Digital Art
  • Digital Design
  • Digital Preservation & Curation
  • Drawing
  • Earthenware Design
  • Fine Arts
  • Furniture and Interior Design
  • Graphic Art
  • Graphic Design
  • History
  • History of Art
  • Installation Art
  • Metal Work and Design
  • Multimedia Design
  • Museology
  • Museum Anthropology
  • Natural Fibres Craft and Design
  • Painting
  • Photography
  • Photography Design
  • Printmaking
  • Sculpture
  • Stonework and Design
  • Studio Art
  • Visual Arts
  • Visual Communication Design
  • Wood Craft and Design

Educational Fees

The fees for courses can range from approximately INR 10,000 to INR 1,00,000 per year, depending on the institution and the level of the program. In addition to the tuition fees, there may be additional expenses such as accommodation, books, and other related costs.

Job Opportunities

You would begin as an Art Intern or an Assistant Curator. After completing your studies you would have to obtain ground-level experience by working in some art museums, and galleries or collaborating/working with independent artists to become an Art curator. Most of Art Curators work at various

Public/Private art museums/galleries like Delhi Art Gallery, Kiran Nadar Museum of Art (KNMA), Devi Art Foundation, the Kochi-Muziris Biennale, The Sculpture Park, National Gallery of Modern Art (New Delhi, Mumbai, and Bengaluru), Dr. Bhau Daji Lad Museum (Mumbai) and Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya (Mumbai), Lalit Kala Akademi, Triveni kala Sangam, Art Today, Gallery Espace, Garhi Lalit Kala Artist Studio, India Arts Palace, The Attic, Psk, Stupa 18 Gallery, Ambarka Gallery, JK Emporium, Press Club Art Gallery, The Village Gallery, Dhoomimal Art Gallery, Art Heritage Gallery, Photoink, Impulse Art Gallery, Niv Art Centre, Capital Art Gallery, Aniha Art Gallery, Visual Art Gallery, Shrine Empire Gallery, Gallerie Nvya etc.

Famous Indian Art Museums/Galleries like the National Gallery of Modern Arts, National Museum, Victoria Memorial, Vadehra Art Gallery (New Delhi), Nature Morte (New Delhi), Gallery Chemould (Mumbai), Chatterjee & Lal (Mumbai), DAG Modern (New Delhi), Experimenter (Kolkata), Lakeeren Art Gallery (Mumbai)

Auction houses: Saffronart, Sotheby’s, Pundole’s, AstaGuru, and Bonhams etc.

(Auction Houses are dedicated to the buying and selling of previously owned pieces of art and also provide a platform for getting the highest possible price for a piece of art when it enters the private marketplace)

Private Non-commercial art Initiatives like KHOJ, Foundation for Indian Contemporary Art (FICA), Kanoria Centre for Arts, TIFA Working Studios, Khanabadosh, etc. are the organizations that focus on enhancing opportunities for Artists and curators likewise.

Salary of an Art Curator

At an entry level, you may start of on a lower salary or a stipend of around 10,000 – 15,000 per month.

At the junior level, with an experience of 2-4 years, you may start earning a decent pay of around Rs.25,000 – 30,000 per month or even more.

At Middle-level, you may earn around Rs.80,000 – 1,25,000 per month.

At the Senior- level, you may earn around Rs.95,000 – 2,00,000 per month or even more.

Well, initially you can expect a lower salary/stipend but as you would gain more experience, you can expect an increase in pay. Although in some cases where if you are collaborating with independent artists or working on small projects or commissions, you would get paid accordingly. For example, an Art Curator would earn around 1.25 lakhs for organizing an art exhibition for an artist. Please note that organizing an exhibition takes months and requires a lot of planning and research. Depending on the size and scale of projects you would be earning a fair amount.

As a Curator in The National Gallery of Modern Art, you would earn around Rs.82,809–2,14,943 per month.

As a Deputy Curator in The National Gallery of Modern Art, you would earn around Rs.69,237 – 2,11,275 per month.

Whereas as a Curator or Deputy Curator in The National Gallery of Modern Art your earnings per month would be fixed according to the 7th pay commission and would be slightly higher than the salaries provided by the private museums as these come under the Central/state government. Although the entry route for getting appointed in The National Gallery of Modern Art is not direct, you would have to first appear and clear the UPSC Civil Service Examination.

Career Progression as an art curator

You can start working as an Art Intern/Assistant Curator/ Conservator/ subject expert depending upon your area of specialization and years of work experience. As an Art Curator, your career progression would be:

Art Intern – Assistant Art Curator – Associate Art Curator – Senior Curator – Head/Chief Art Curator

According to FICCI, KPMG, the Indian Visual Arts Industry has witnessed an inflow of wealth, with a new emerging breed of high-net-worth collectors that consider art and collectibles as major assets. Further, private players, including art galleries and auction houses, have been instrumental in providing depth to the industry and supporting the entire infrastructure. The Indian Visual Arts Industry has garnered Rs.14.6 Billion in recent years and holds an even greater potential in terms of its impact on the Indian economy, through its direct contributions to employment, skills development as well as supporting a number of high-value ancillary industries.

The Indian visual arts industry holds significant potential as a combined 8 % of the ‘world’s wealth spent consists of spending on fine art paintings and pictures, and fine art sculptures; only a minuscule 0.02 percent of the Indian wealth is spent on arts. This presents a substantial headroom for growth. Assets of HNWIs (High Net worth Individuals) in India are expected to reach USD 2.3 trillion by 2020, thereby indicating a large opportunity pool, even a fraction of which can help in the exponential growth of the Indian visual arts industry. Therefore a career as Art Curator will have a good prospect in the future.

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