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Matinee: Sarah Hermanson Meister Share This on LinkedIn   Share This on Google   Tweet This   Forward This

31 October 2015

Saturday matinees long ago let us escape from the ordinary world to the island of the Swiss Family Robinson or the mutinous decks of the Bounty. Why not, we thought, escape the usual fare here with Saturday matinees of our favorite photography films?

So we're pleased to present the 109th in our series of Saturday matinees today: Careers In Photography: Sarah Hermanson Meister, Museum Curator.

Sarah Meister has been a curator in the Department of Photography at The Museum of Modern Art in New York City since 1997 and has authored several essays, books and catalogs. Here's her official bio (take a deep breath and dive in):

At MoMA, she installed the Edward Steichen Photography Galleries to offer a history of photography from the 1840s through the 1970s and organized Picturing New York (2009), a book and exhibition of 150 works from the Museum's collection that traveled to La Casa Encendida (Madrid), the Museo di arte moderna e contemporanea di Trento e Rovereto (Rovereto, Italy) and the Irish Museum of Modern Art (Dublin). The exhibition also traveled to the High Museum (Atlanta) in 2012.

Along with her colleagues Roxana Marcoci and Eva Respini, she organized Pictures by Women: A History of Modern Photography (2010), which was presented in conjunction with the publication of Modern Women: Women Artists at The Museum of Modern Art (2010).

Her other publications include Rudy Burckhardt: An Afternoon in Astoria (2002); Michael Wesely: Open Shutter (2004); Life of the City (2007); contributions to Greater New York 2005 (2005); and Sabine Hornig: Der Zweite Raum/The Second Room (2006).

Meister was awarded the Lee Tenenbaum Award for outstanding scholarship and research in 2001.

So when she sits down (even if, she doesn't actually stay seated very long) to tell you what life as a curator of photography is like, she knows what she's talking about. And she can do it in just five minutes.

At MOMA, she says, one of the nice things is that you're responsible for a collection "in every sense of the word." Acquisitions, exhibitions, caring for the collection, the whole ball of wax.

The job, Meister says, is a combination of an academic position and an object oriented one, which provides two paths to the career.

Setting up an exhibition is the fun part, she says. The trick is to lay out the show so it's interesting but not complex. "One of the most important things a curator does in an exhibition is clarify something about the art that's on display for people even if they don't read anything," she says.

Fortunately, curators do not have to actually hang the prints. There are other people for that. You just have to tell them where to hang them.

Taking care of the prints is a big part of the job. "I know how to care for a photograph better than most people," she tells us, "so you may as well leave your photograph with me and I'll make sure it's around for the next couple hundred years."

Preparator Karen Van Wart also makes an appearance in the video, showing us what her job entails. That's primarily storing the prints "in the best archival manner." We see her apply a cleverly folded tab to the corner of a print that allows it to be handled with ever touching it. In fact, she applies the tab itself without touching the print.

That print is being returned from an exhibition to long-term archival storage. Eighty percent of the museum's collection is in cold storage and Meister gives us a tour of the cold storage facility.

The job, Meister says, is a combination of an academic position and an object oriented one, which provides two paths to the career. A graduate program can help you learn the history of photography but having hands on experience matters, too. She's astounded how many well-qualified academics aren't willing to roll up their sleeves "and get it done." Or they can't write, which is a really important skill, she emphasizes.

Study what you love, her parents told her, and she passes that advice along. If you do that, "there are a lot of things that can happen for you," she concludes.

And they certainly have for her.

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