Have resumes and cover letters become your (least) favorite new hobby? Times are tough out there for recent graduates and young professionals â€“ competition is fierce and you canâ€™t be an intern forever. Â In our new blog series,Â So you want toâ€¦, our museum staff offers advice and inspiration for pursuing an arts career. Donâ€™t worryâ€“ all those applications will eventually turn into an interview!
Denise Markonish has curated multiple exhibitions at MASS MoCA, including, most recently, Oh Canada, the largest survey of contemporary Canadian art ever produced outside of Canada. With Susan Cross, she co-edited the bookÂ Sol LeWitt: 100 ViewsÂ (Yale University Press) in conjunction with MASS MoCAâ€™s monumental Sol LeWitt: A Wall Drawing RetrospectiveÂ exhibit. Prior to her work at MASS MoCA, Markonish curated at Artspace (New Haven, CT), the Fuller Museum (Brockton, MA), and the Main Line Art Center (Haverford, PA). Markonish earned her Bachelorâ€™s degree at Brandeis University and her Masterâ€™s degree at Bard College’s Center for Curatorial Studies.
What is the best career advice you ever received?
I don’t think it was so much advice as just watching how others negotiated the art world. Early on, when I was around 19 years old, I interned at the Rose Art Museum at Brandeis University; I remember that the director at the time, Carl Belz, once pulled me aside and brought me into the storage vault. He pulled out one painting after the next and asked me what I thought. It took me a moment to realize that he really did want my opinion. This was extremely powerfulâ€”to realize that no matter what my age or experience, my opinion and ideas around art mattered. I think this has stayed with me and influences how I operate today.
I was told early on that it doesn’t matter where you are; you can bring great art everywhere. Starting out in the art field, I think everyone thinks you have to go to NYC to make it. I purposely never went there and have had amazing experiences bringing art to different communities.
What was a formative art experience for you as a young person?
When I was a high school senior at Brockton High School (Brockton, MA), we went on a field trip to the Fuller Art Museum. I remember we met with the curator, and I had no idea that it was actually a job. It was at that moment that I knew what I wanted to do.
I had another key art moment when I was much younger as well, but I don’t think I realized how important it was until decades laterâ€¦ when I was about 12 years old, I went on a family vacation in Toronto and saw two public sculptures: one on the side of the Toronto Sky Dome of photographers leaning out of a box to take pictures of the crowd below and the other in Eaton Centre (a large shopping mall) of Canadian geese flying in the air. Later I would realize that these were both sculptures by Michael Snow, one of the most important living Canadian artists. I figured this out in college after seeing Michael’s film “Wavelength,” probably one of my all time favorites. I am so lucky to have worked with Michael once in Connecticut and then again in MASS MoCA’s Oh, Canada exhibition.
What is the biggest shift you have witnessed in the museum field?
I think the biggest shift I have seen in the museum field as of late is the rise of the biennial exhibition. It seems like in the last decade there are twice as many international biennials than before. I have yet to decide if I think this is a good or a bad thing. In theory, getting art out there and taking stock of it is great, but it seems that a lot of the same artists are on this circuit, which makes it seems a little predicable to me. That was one of the main reasons I chose to do the Oh, Canada show, as these were artists that I didn’t feel were getting the same attention on this biennial circuit.
If you could work in any other field, what would it be? Why?
I donâ€™t think could actually or would actually ever want to do anything else. I love what I do and feel very lucky to be able to do it!
Fill in the blank: The future of the arts depends on artists.Â (Our director, Joe Thompson said the same thing!)
Do you have questions for next weekâ€™sÂ So you want toâ€¦? Tweet themÂ @MASS_MoCA!