In this chapter from my new edited collection Museum Practice, Ken Arnold looks at the elusive topic of curatorial practice, offering a broad survey of a multi-faceted topic based in part on a literature review, a specially convened seminar, and also his own experience making exhibitions at Wellcome Collection in London. After reviewing a range of developments driving a change in the way curators work—expansion of the museum profession, new museum spaces and places, and different ways of thinking about collections and exhibitions, research and scholarship, media and audience—he argues that new forms, models and approaches are appearing, broadly speaking a shift “from caring to creating”. In this “new curatorship” we see curators as “political activitists,” “artistic directors,” and “public investigators.” However, sometimes the skills involved are the same as they have always been, for example the kind of “thinking out loud” found in the exhibition experiments of the new interdiciplinary cultural centres of which Wellcome Collection is an example. “In this particular form of new curatorship,” Arnold reminds us, “a premium is placed on the idea of seeking and marshalling visual and material ideas in order finally, with an inspired flourish of showmanship, to just stand back and point.”
Ken Arnold is Head of Public Programmes at Wellcome Collection in London, and regularly curates exhibitions on medecine, art and science. Ken completed a PhD in history at Princeton, and has worked in museums on both sides of the Atlantic. His last monograph about the history of museums was Cabinets for the Curious (Ashgate, 2006) and he is currently writing a book on exhibitions and public knowledge. In February 2010, he chaired an international seminar at Victoria University of Wellington titled Curatopia: Museums and the future of curatorial practice.
The Curator of the future: A conference at the British Museum April 2015: