University of Cambridge Museums

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Art & Science of Curation: What is it that curators do?

The Art & Science of Curation is a project which explores ideas around Curation and the role of the curator. Over the coming year, we will be inviting people from both within and outside our museums to share their thoughts on curation.  We want to build a body of writings which articulate and explore the many different ways in which a curator can curate, and each week we’ll be posting a new piece of writing here on our blog.  If you feel you’ve something interesting to say, do please get in touch about contributing. Find out more about the Art & Science of Curation on our website.

What is it that curators do?
Harriet Loffler is the Curator of Modern & Contemporary Art at Norfolk Museums Service.

In my role as Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art I act as a go-between.  I am the intermediary between an artist, art works, the audience and the organisation. For a relationship with an artist to be productive you need to be flexible and prepared to take on different roles. I’ve heard the curator described as a sparring partner, editor, collaborator, translator and more dramatically, lover. There is a certain intimacy that comes with working closely with an artist especially since these are often relationships that have developed over a long period of time.

Sometimes being a curator is about timing. The project that I worked on with artist Caroline Wright for Curating Cambridge was in discussion for well over three years before it felt like the right moment to make it a reality. Sawdust & Threads is a residency, exhibition, public programme and publication that takes de-accessioned museum objects as its material. It has been conceived by Norwich Castle Museum & Art Gallery in partnership with The Polar Museum in Cambridge and UCL Museum & Collections in London. For the project launch at The Polar Museum, Caroline undertook a short residency where she made detailed drawings of two de-accessioned objects – a pair of moccasin liners and a wicker ball. For two weeks Caroline sat at the entrance to the museum where she began the time-consuming and laborious process of taking the objects apart to reveal their material and making.

What is it that curator’s do


Part of caring for a collection is making difficult decisions about disposing of things that really don’t fit the collection, are damaged beyond repair, or are duplicates of existing objects in the collection. The objects selected for Sawdust & Threads have been de-accessioned, which means they have been through a rigorous process of responsible disposal in line with the Museums Association’s Code of Ethics.

The project poses questions about the nature of museum collections. Who owns these objects and how is the value of an object defined? Is value being removed or re-ascribed during this process of deconstruction?

For me this project is really about loss and how we come to terms with things not being preserved or conserved in perpetuity. Is this the death of the museum object or is it rather its unique afterlife? A life that lives on through the drawings given to the participating museums in return for their fascinating and inspiring objects.

What is it that curator’s do

UCL Museum & Collections 16 – 21 February 2015
Norwich Castle Museum & Art Gallery 16 May – 27 September 2015
For more information visit   #sawdust&threads

Sawdust and Threads is supported using public funding by the National Lottery through Arts Council England

One comment on “Art & Science of Curation: What is it that curators do?

  1. plisnerhaines
    February 5, 2015

    Interesting. I feel like I have been’curating’ all my late dad’s collections/hoards as I having been writing and photographing them for my own blog: ‘Dad’s Drawers’.

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This entry was posted on February 5, 2015 by in Behind the Scenes, Culture, News and tagged , , , , .
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