Integrating Curators and Collections
We recently sat down to talk with Stephan Wolohojian, the Landon and Lavinia Clay Curator and head of the Harvard Art Museums’ Division of European and American Art, to find out what he’s been up to lately. Wolohojian spoke to us while taking a break from installing the galleries of our new facility—an exciting process that he and his colleagues have been working toward for several years.
Q You’re overseeing the installation of European and American art in the collections galleries, but you’re also working with curators from other divisions whose works are included in those galleries. What’s that been like?
A This installation has inspired collaboration between all my colleagues. There is no model of a permanent collection installation in which all the collections are so fully integrated. It’s been fascinating and wonderful to experience. I often think about how interesting the galleries will be to teach in.
Insights have been gleaned from all sides. Placing a French impressionist painting alongside American works, for example, or installing a print in a gallery that has works by that same artist in other media, or seeing an early photograph in a gallery with large-scale paintings has provoked wonderful discussions among my colleagues. You get a deep sense of everyone’s specialized angle and engagement, both with the material that they’re curating and responsible for, but also with the artists and the larger contexts as they see them… It’s a brave new world of curating.
Q It’s definitely a rare opportunity to install an entire museum. What else has stood out about this experience?
A Usually, there’s a kind of curatorial authorship by which you say “These are my galleries,” or “This is my take on the material.” When you have so many people working alongside you, that’s not the case… It’s a shift in curatorial practice.
In other areas, such as in Asian art, the integration of collections is quite common. Scrolls, ceramics, and sculpture are often presented together. In the Western tradition, everything has become more and more siloed: Picasso prints in the print department, Picasso drawings in the drawings department, Picasso paintings in the paintings department, and Picasso ceramics with decorative arts. In our work, we’re integrating everything in one space as a curatorial body.
This cross-pollination is shaping our practice—and it may even shape a whole new generation of curatorial practice.