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Publication Date: 2016-05-16


Art at Large

"A great curator has to be charismatic,” says Neal Benezra, director of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, which reopened on May 14 after a massive expansion and remodel. “He or she needs real intellectual firepower but also a messianic skill set that can inspire people both inside and outside the museum.” 


Benezra worked as a curator for almost 15 years before moving into a dual deputy director and curator role at the Art Institute of Chicago, then taking the helm of SFMOMA in 2002. “Being a curator of contemporary art, where everything is moving, is not like being a curator of the Italian Renaissance,” he adds. “It is not a desk job. Curators really need to get out there, looking, talking, meeting artists and collectors.” Above: The SFMOMA curatorial team, from left: Sandra Phillips, Neal Benezra, Dominic Willsdon, Gary Garrels, Jennifer Dunlop Fletcher, Ruth Berson and Rudolf Frieling. Photography by Matthew Millman

Charm is rarely acknowledged as an essential curatorial attribute, but it makes perfect sense. Curators need to be persuasive. They need to win over acquisitions committees, convey their conviction in artists and convince others of the urgency of their exhibition ideas. They must be able to coax and cajole difficult artists and demanding collectors, particularly as the latter sometimes rely on curators as sounding boards or unpaid art consultants. In exchange for the expert advice, it is hoped that collectors will give generously when the time is right.

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