If you’ve been following these writings for a while, you know that I sometimes post about top curators in the art world. That’s all well and good, but just knowing about these people isn’t going to get you very far. So how do you go about actually connecting with a curator? How do you go from reading their name in an article to standing in front of them and—who knows—maybe working with them one day? Here I will break down some practical steps you can take to connect with curators who hold the potential to advance your career as an artist.
The first and best way to begin moving closer to any given curator is to do a little research. Find out what museums and galleries they are working with and where they are going to be next, and what they look like. Locate an opening that you can get to and clear your calendar. If you’re new to the art events circuit, refresh your courage by reading through our post about how to fake it ‘til you make it in the art world. Remember, it’s all about confidence and how you present yourself. You are, in essence, a brilliant artist. Own it. Be proud of it.
Before you even locate your curatorial quarry in the room, take in the exhibition. Get to know the art on the walls (or on the floor, or on the screen…whatever applies) and pick out some aspects that speak to you. We’ll explain why in just a moment. Once you feel you are nicely familiar with what’s going on in the exhibition, then and only then can you start scanning the crowd for the face you’re hoping to find.
You’ve spotted him or her, and you’re plucking up your courage to go say hello. So here’s the thing. At the opening of an event, the curator is going to be one of the most sought after people in the room. There’s no getting around this. That means you will have to keep a keen eye out for the right moment to approach. When the opportunity arises, make your way over and be prepared to flatter, in a genuine way.
Remember the time you spent taking in the art before approaching the curator responsible? One of the best ways to stand out among the throngs of people who will want to have their moment chatting with the evening’s curator is to compliment what they have accomplished. Flattery will get you everywhere as they say, especially if it is sincere and accurate. If nothing else, it will very likely get you remembered. Don’t go over the top, but it can’t hurt to approach with a loosely rehearsed bit of praise up your sleeve. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and above all, listen to the answers. Be curious about the person you are talking to. After all, this is someone you have identified as an important figure. Ask more questions than you give answers. Remember that everyone likes talking about themselves and their work. Use this to your advantage.
It isn’t critical that you bring up your own work during this first meeting. In fact, it may be critical that you don’t. Use this face to face opportunity as a simple first impression. Work on developing a rapport. Don’t take up too much time, recognize that you are only one of many in the room who surely want a piece of the curator’s attention. Paying attention to a detail like this and not allowing yourself to monopolize someone else’s time shows respect. It shows that you understand it isn’t just about you and your needs.
You’ve done it. You’ve attended and introduced yourself. So…..now what? Time for a follow up. There are a few ways to approach this. If you can find an email address, this is very likely the best way to reach out for a follow up. If you don’t know the specific email address for the curator you’re trying to reach but you do know that they are on staff at one or more locations, it is possible to use this to your advantage.
Every major institution has formatted email addresses. For example, at The Whitney Museum, email addresses follow this format email@example.com so as long as you have the correct information to fill in here, (a name) you can email anyone at Whitney. This will be the case in most institutions, just locate the email fomat, and you can usually contact anyone in house.
What if you can’t locate an email address no matter how hard you try? Not to worry. Before the advent of electronic messages, the letter was king. In fact, some may argue that these days there is a certain charm and merit to sending a letter rather than an email. If you can’t locate an email address, find a paper and pen and start writing, or type it up on a computer and print it out. Send a nice note to your new curatorial chum, care of the gallery or museum where the show was curated. It’s less precise than an email, but the results could surprise you. Just be sure to include your contact information including email address and phone number.
Ultimately, the important thing is to put yourself out there. Someone once said, it’s just as easy to make friends of consequence as it is to make friends of no consequence. Sure you may be wondering how on earth you’ll ever say hello to a curator, but at the end of the day they’re all just creative people looking for feedback.