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Broadening a Specialty

Grace Chuang

As a Metropolitan Museum of Art/Institute of Fine Arts Curatorial Studies Resident during the 2012–13 academic year, I split my time between the Department of European Sculpture and Decorative Arts and the Robert Lehman Collection. I had the pleasure of working on a variety of interesting projects with a number of curators, including Luke Syson, Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Curator in Charge, and Curators Daniëlle O. Kisluk-Grosheide, Ellenor Alcorn, and Jeffrey Munger, and Assistant Curator Yassana Croizat-Glazer (European Sculpture and Decorative Arts), as well as Acting Associate Curator-in-Charge and Administrator Dita Amory (Robert Lehman Collection).

My expertise is seventeenth- and eighteenth-century European art, with special emphasis on France. During my residency, I was challenged to broaden my range of specialty. Researching the objects on the European Sculpture Highlights Tour and summarizing the salient facts about each object for Luke Syson, I learned about sculpture, and various projects taught me much about British decorative art. In addition, in the course of charting the chronology of the Department of European Sculpture and Decorative Arts, I found the oral histories taken from previous curators in the department particularly intriguing for the light they shed on the evolution of curatorial practice over the years.

An essential curatorial skill I developed through the residency was facility and confidence in handling works of art, from furniture to bronzes to glass and ceramics. My mentors, in particular Daniëlle Kisluk-Grosheide, Jeffrey Munger, and Ellenor Alcorn, taught me proper handling procedures for the various media, and eventually trusted me to handle certain objects on my own. During my residency, I learned that life as a curator frequently involves juggling many different tasks simultaneously, and I became better at shifting gears to accommodate urgent matters. This represented a change in mentality from the concentrated and sometimes obsessive focus of researching and writing a dissertation to a heightened awareness of priorities, as well as temporal and fiscal constraints.

Among the most interesting and enjoyable aspects of my residency was collaborating with a variety of people outside the curatorial departments. I engaged with donors, collectors, dealers, independent scholars, academic art historians, and curatorial and conservation staff from other museums, encounters that proved both educational and gratifying. I participated in events for the Museum's fellows, an invaluable opportunity to get to know a diverse group of individuals, to learn about their fields of interest, and to form lasting friendships.

Perhaps the most fulfilling aspect of my curatorial studies residency was my project for the Robert Lehman Collection, which was to curate an exhibition of Italian Renaissance and Baroque bronzes in the collection. A comprehensive catalogue of the European sculpture and metalwork in the Robert Lehman Collection had been published in 2011, but, due to space constraints, many of the objects had not been on view in many years. Dita Amory proposed exhibiting the best bronzes in Gallery 960, which usually displays rotations of drawings from the Lehman Collection. It was an amazing privilege to be entrusted with the project, to see it through from checklist to installation, working with so many museum professionals: conservators, installers, mountmakers, graphic designers and the lighting team, and the Departments of Buildings, Exhibitions, Editorial, Digital Media, and the Press Office.

I learned the deceptively difficult art of writing text panels and labels that both draw the visitor's attention to the significance of the object and its cultural context—all within a strict word count!—and about the subtleties of installing objects to their best advantage, within  physical and fiscal constraints. It was truly exhilarating to see the exhibition installed.

I am profoundly grateful to have had the privilege of spending nine months at The Metropolitan Museum of Art as a Curatorial Studies Resident in the Metropolitan Museum of Art/Institute of Fine Arts Curatorial Studies program.

Grace Chuang
Alumna, Curatorial Studies

Maryam Ekhtiar
Associate Curator, Department of Islamic Art - See more at: http://wwwstg.metmuseum.org/research/curatorial-research/curatorial-studies/maryam-ekhtiar#sthash.6tPNiGDR.dpuf
NYU Institute of Fine Arts

Learn more about the Curatorial Studies program, offered jointly by the Institute of Fine Arts and The Metropolitan Museum of Art.