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What Museum Visitors Want to Know

Museums are mysterious to many people outside the art world (and maybe to people in the art world, I don’t know!). That’s why I highlighted Ask A Curator Day here last week, and why I asked to hear from curators who participated.

One museum–prompted by a curator there–stepped up. The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco contacted me at the end of last week, and provided some questions that had been asked, which is what I wanted. I was traveling on assignment and needed a bit more information, and now I can relate what I learnd to you. My thanks to Colleen Terry, Associate Curator, Achenbach Foundation for Graphic Arts at the Legion of Honor, who mentioned my original post, and to Joyce Alcantara, the Public Relations Assistant who followed up and got me this information.

FAMSF says that curators from several departments, from works on paper, to European paintings, to American Art and Arts of Africa, Oceania and the Americas, participated in the event, even though “these curators have no social media presence and it was their first time using Twitter.” The hardest part, she added, was condensing answers to 140 characters.

Aside from Terry, the curatoris included Kirk Nickel, Assistant Curator, European Paintings at the Legion of Honor; Hillary Olcott, Assistant Curator, Art of Africa, Oceania and the Americas at the de Young, and Emma Acker, Associate Curator, American Art at the de Young.

Alcantara reports:

There was a high volume of questions coming in every few minutes. Many questions came from from the general #AskACurator thread on Twitter. Since it was an international conversation, starting with museums hours ahead of us, there was no shortage of tweets to be answers. Only a handful were directed to @deyoungmuseum and @legionofhonor specifically, but those questions were still thoughtful and tailored to our curators’ field of study.

Among the questions, first for the Legion of Honor:

Q: “In what ways have you seen the title “curator” blatantly misused?”

A: Ads on a city bus in an unnamed eastern US city: “Help us curate your ride…” –Nickel

Q: Hi Colleen. Is Paper difficult to keep in good condition?

A: Old papers are very resilient – they were made of old rags. More recent papers give our conservators more problems. –Terry

Q: Can you explain the differences in your approach when working with emerging/living artists vs. those who have passed?

A: You can ask questions of living artists that might direct your study. That luxury doesn’t exist with the deceased. –Terry

And for the de Young:

Q: Fellow  #AskACurator Curators – I know you are multi-tasking. What else are you trying to get done while answering Qs on Twitter?

A: We just opened  #MaoriPortraits and are installing  #TeotihuacanNow, which opens Sept 30th. –Olcott

Q: Pick one piece in your collection to come to life so you could have a conversation with it, which would it be?

A: The stela with the portrait of Ix Mutal Ahaw [pictured above]. I’m sure that the mighty Maya Queen would have some stories to share! –Olcott

Q: What would be your dream exhibition to curate?

A: I’m working on one of them now! #CultoftheMachine opens Mar 24th, 2018 w. works by O’Keeffe, Sheeler, Demuth + more! –Acker

Ok, nothing startling there–but mostly interesting, earnest questions. Thank you, FAMSF for sharing your experiences. If anyone else wants to comment, on their participation, please do below.

Photo Credit: Courtesy of the de Young Museum

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