MA Curating the Art Museum

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MA Curating the Art Museum


Postgraduate Taught Courses

MA Curating the Art Museum

The MA Curating the Art Museum offers an ideal entry point for a career in museums and galleries.

The programme puts the physical object at the heart of curatorial training whilst placing specialist knowledge firmly within the context of the modern museum. Students are given a unique mix of seminars, hands-on experience and internship placements, all focusing on the expanding remit of the art curator in the twenty-first century.

This MA provides a small group of students with unrivaled access to exceptional resources, drawing on the Courtauld’s own academic faculty, conservation departments and the Gallery, as well as making the most of our close links with other London museums. Among the highlights of the curriculum are a field trip to Europe and an exhibition project that takes place in The Courtauld Gallery.

Key facts

Status Full time
12 students
Duration 1 year
Language Skills English
Application Deadline 5pm GMT 15 January 2019

MA Curating the Art Museum

You can download a pdf version of the prospectus below.

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The MA Programme is a full-time, 12-month course.

Teaching is concentrated in three 11 week terms but work elements of the course may continue at other times, and the dissertation is to be written during the summer months. The Programme is structured as a series of interweaving strands.

The course is led by Martin Caiger-Smith who has had a successful career in curating exhibitions.


Term 1

Conservation, Presentation and Access: Ethics and Practice

A series of four seminars on contemporary approaches to the ethics and practice of conservation, and current issues and debates, led by a practising conservator and object-based art historian. Sessions focus on paintings as physical objects, methodology and meanings; the display and dissemination of technical images in museums and galleries, considering the relationship between image and object; preservation and presentation decision making; and the balance between conservation and access.

History and Theory of Museums

This strand considers the history of art museums in Britain and elsewhere, from the seventeenth century to the twentieth. While the museum dedicated exclusively to fine art is a relatively recent phenomenon, museums have been a significant cultural phenomenon since the sixteenth century. An understanding of the contemporary art museum can be illuminated by a study of how such institutions have functioned in the past, and how they differ from or resemble their contemporary descendants. A number of visits to museums will be made. Students are encouraged to engage with the extensive literature on the subject and are required to write an essay in this field.

Virtual Museums

In 2012/13, the Virtual Display exercise will be conducted in two separate groups of six students each, at Tate Britain and the National Gallery . The exercise will be set and led by Curators from each museum, in consultation with the Head of the MA Programme: this will be a ‘virtual’ installation, hang or re-hang of a given space in the museum, which takes into account the context of the space, the remit and current programme of displays and exhibitions of the museum, and the practical needs of display and of the works themselves, including approaches to interpretation.In advance of the exercise the Head of Progamme lead a preparatory session with students (at the Courtauld) to establish the principles of the exercise, and basic concepts and methodologies of museums’ collections display. The exercise will conclude, at the fourth session, with a presentation by the student group to Gallery Curators and the Head of Programme.

Term 1-2

Contemporary approaches to the museum

These eight sessions aim to build on the Museum History sessions and to complement the more focused and practical sessions and exercises (Conservation; Virtual Display, Text and Interpretation) in the first two terms.The first four sessions (in Term 1) introduce in turn the roles and remit of the curator; the functions and architecture of the modern and contemporary art museum; the temporary exhibition; and issues of museum and exhibition display, particularly in relation to modern and contemporary art; all are set in (recent) historical context and in relation to each other.The final four sessions centre on site visits or presentations by invited professionals and artists. They introduce new voices, and new themes: exhibition design and its implications for the curator; the relation of acquisitions and display in the modern art museum; the relation of the private and public spheres, the auction house and the commercial gallery; and the active relationship between artists and museums, with a look to the future.


Each student will, following discussion with the Head of Programme in the first four weeks of term, embark on an internship with a London museum/gallery. The internship runs alongside the other taught sessions, collaborative exercises and written assignments that comprise the Programme, and forms an integral and obligatory part of the twelve-month programme. It is designed to complement the theoretical, methodological and practical instruction received on the programme, and to assist in providing students with the skills and expertise required for a curatorial or curatorial-related career in museums. It should serve as an opportunity for the student to develop professional attitudes and skills, and to apply research and academic knowledge and expertise to the museum situation.

The internship will extend over a period from mid-November to mid/late April, part-time and amounting to a total of around 25 full working days. Those days worked are to be agreed directly between the intern and the participating institution, and must fit within the schedule for the course as a whole. It is intended that internships take place on Mondays, Thursdays or Fridays. Unless specifically agreed otherwise, full days are to be worked.

Term 2

Exhibition Project

This project is a group exercise. Its purpose, parameters and location will be introduced to students at the end of Term 1, and developed in a series of sessions led by the Head of Programme and/or Gallery curators throughout Term 2; at the end of Term 2 a formal presentation will be made and a project approved, for further development and realisation through Term 3; the exhibition will be held in June/July 2013. Further details are to be confirmed.

Text and interpretation

This course contains two strands which will run concurrently (on alternate weeks).Strand 1, taught by Katie Scott, examines different modes of art writing. Through reading and discussion of selected examples, students will analyse some of the functions of writing about art, and analyse a variety of theoretical and rhetorical approaches, comparing and contrasting the different kinds of texts which museums and galleries call upon and produce in publishing their collections and staging exhibitions.Strand 2, taught by Sarah Hyde, looks at the ways in which such texts are used to produce interpretative material for museum and gallery visitors. The course examines the range of interpretative strategies currently used in art museums and looks critically at their aims and the effectiveness with which they provide for the broad spectrum of museum visitors.The course consists of ten two-hour sessions, taught alternately, although both tutors will attend all sessions. Classes will be in a range of formats; each will entail the active participation of each student, for example through class discussion, or through writing and editing exercises undertaken during the class or in visits to exhibitions, which lead to the building of a dossier and a presentation, which is informally assessed, in the final session.

Term 3


Preparation for dissertations (10,000 words max.) begins this term, and titles are agreed in June. Writing continues over the summer months, with submission in September.

Exhibition Project

This project is further developed and realised through Term 3, when it becomes the dominant element in the Programme. Invited specialists will inform the progress of the project, and further sessions will explore general issues relating to exhibition management and curating. The exhibition will be formally assessed.

Leadership Session

Informal session with an invited speaker from a museum or gallery; exploring issues of museum management and policy.

Study Trip Abroad

Four days in Europe; destination and schedule to be confirmed; to take place early in Term 3.

The MA Curating the Art Museum is assessed on:

  • Two 4000 word essays (one each in terms 1 and 2)
  • Written dossier – based on critique of the interpretation strategy of a current exhibition as part of the text and interpretation sessions – presented in group presentations and informally assessed (Term 2)
  • Internship assessment (during terms 1 & 2) Internships are assessed pass/fail based on mentor’s report following self-reflective report written by the student
  • Exhibition project (Term 3 – formal assessment)
  • A dissertation of maximum 10,000 words (Completed in the summer months, submitted in September)

A central element of this MA is a part-time internship, running over six months, in a prominent London museum or gallery. It is designed to expose students to the theoretical and the practical approaches in curating which underpins the entire course.In addition to the formal assessments above, students will also engage in the planning and delivery of public debates involving museum professionals, and undertake collaborative projects oriented towards the display of visual art.

Bachelor’s Degree – Students will normally have achieved a good 2.1, considered to be an overall average 65% or above.

We accept overseas qualifications equivalent to a 2.1 in a UK first degree (e.g. US applicants should have a cumulative GPA of 3.5 or above).

If you hold a qualification from outside of the UK, please feel free to contact the Academic Registry; however, please be aware that our staff are unable to confirm whether you will be invited to interview, as candidates are judged on the strength of their applications as a whole.



All applicants are expected to have an effective knowledge of English, both spoken and written. For applicants whose first language is not English, we require proof of English proficiency – for details, please see the English Language Requirements page.


2019/20 Fees Available Here

Fees are subject to change each academic year. Fee info, including what qualifies as home, EU, and overseas fees, can be found here.

Financial support for your studies

Find information about loans, grants, and bursaries to support you during your studies at The Courtauld here.

Courtauld Course Lecturer

Martin Caiger-Smith

Programme leader

Martin’s interests include modern and contemporary museums and galleries and curatorship, and the modern and recent history of exhibitions and display. He is a consultant on art and exhibition projects, and writes on contemporary art, photography and exhibitions.

Apply for this course

Apply for this course or download a prospectus for more information.

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