Carol Vogel‘s recent article in the New York Times The New Guard of Curators Steps Up got me thinking…well, fretting mostly. Focusing on four curators in their 30s, Vogel posits that young curators are critical in attracting young audiences. Case in point: the Tim Burton retrospective at MoMA (see image above). Conceived by 37-year-old curator Rajendra Roy, the exhibition is attracting people in their 30s, a whole decade younger than the typical MoMA visitor.
Vogel makes what on the surface appears to be a perfectly harmless argument. But (not to be overly dramatic about it) it’s sort of a dangerous one too. This is embarrassing to admit, but I can’t help but wonder if the museum world is being tainted by America’s obsession with youth.
Even though I happen to fit the desirable demographic described, I know that won’t always be the case. To me, this is more about psychographics than demographics. Will these wunderkind curators cease doing compelling work post their 40th birthday? I don’t think so. Interested, interesting people will always appeal to the next generation. In fact, it is precisely their experience that allows them to do more exciting work than their younger, greener colleagues.
I'm even more convinced of this after seeing the Burton show this past weekend. While I'm greatly impressed with Roy's vision, the show would have been better executed by someone with more curatorial experience who would not have made the mistake of jam- packing too many artworks into too small of a space. The delicate balance between creating a mind-blowing experience for visitors, while at the same time exercising curatorial restraint, is probably one of those things that can only be learned after a lot of trial and error, a.k.a. experience.