Art Women: A Guide to Museum Women

THE CURATOR

The Curator oversees the acquisitions of new works, takes responsibility for the maintenance of the museum’s holdings, and carefully sculpts the museum’s future with her vision of where Art Is Going. If, as a practical matter, The Curator spends most of her energy enhancing her reputation among the cosmopolitan museum set — well, so much the better! After all, you don’t expect her to stick around this hick town for long, do you?

Role Models

Athena The Curator works hard to stand for the art community the way Athena symbolized Athens. Like the Greek goddess, The Curator always strives to be magnificent, noble, and austerely stylish.

Simone de Beauvoir Feminist, philosopher, bohemian, and scarf-wearing lover of Sartre, de Beauvoir showed The Curator that a woman could have brains, panache, and significance. The Curator finds it curiously arousing that such a proud woman could also have abased herself so thoroughly in the service of her mentor.

Andy Warhol He achieved artistic fame by mixing up the low and the high. He was a master manipulator. And, let’s face it, The Curator would rather be a creative person than a bureaucrat anyway. Who wouldn’t?

Habitats

Living out of open suitcases in a one bedroom apartment. Happiest when standing in the middle of an empty gallery telling assistants where she wants art to be placed.

Varieties

  • 19th century Secretly fed up with Impressionism.
  • Special Exhibitions Considering a move into the marketing department at Viacom.
  • Antiquities Smug. Who would dare to suggest deaccessioning her collection?

Attitude

“I inhabit many time zones simultaneously.”

Sustenance

Less about what it is and more about how it’s done. Eats either in the European style, fork in the left hand, or with expertly-wielded chopsticks.

Often Heard Saying …

  • “I’m always challenging the role of the curator itself.”
  • “I have a preoccupation in my work with loss and absence.”
  • “I was planning to bring over Pipilotti Rist and now you tell me we don’t have the funds to stay open Saturdays?!”

Family

Dad did something shadowy and parapetetic for Aramco. Mom gave up a career as a fashion model in order to tend the household. You don’t think it’s easy making arrangements for boarding schools, do you?

Education

American Schools in Tangier, Kowloon, and Abu Dhabi. Apprenticed at the Biennale and the Tate. Speaks four languages fluently, gets by in six more — but still trying to master the local accent so as not to appear too hoity toity.

Mating Patterns

Skype sex with fiance, Financial Times bureau chief in Berlin. That third-rate Brancusi in the Museum’s entryway is looking mighty erotic!

Biggest Challenge

Balancing her sense of international chic with her need to win over the locals. Needs to impress, but mustn’t alienate! Good will and attendance figures count, too.

High Point

Used the word “nexus” three times in one interview.

What Art Means to Her

Last year it was “context.” This year it’s “dematerialization.” Next year? God only knows.

The Art of …
MAKING YOURSELF THE STAR

Do This!
Stake out a niche. Art has been thoroughly raked over, but clever curatorial concepts are forever. Ineffective show: Beauty, Nature and The Hudson River School. Effective show: Video and Diversity in a Hyperlinked Age.

Don’t Do This!
Don’t let yourself bog down in local concerns. Give interviews about your plans to serve the community, emphasizing your enthusiasm for regional fiber and glass traditions, then assign your dullest staffer the job of organizing locally-themed exhibits. After all, you’re a smart girl. If you play your cards right you’ll be running the Museum of Fine Arts in Bern long before you have to follow through on any of your more substantial vows.

 

THE BENEFACTOR

Where would the art world be without The Benefactor? It’s only thanks to her that the Museum can keep acquiring black-market antiquities and adding superfluous wings designed by fashionable architects. So let’s all praise and honor The Benefactor — the single most powerful cultural force in the entire city. The fact that she knows nothing about the arts and has terrible personal taste? Minor details!

Role Models

Fanny Hill The Benefactor devoured John Cleland’s erotic classic in her grandmother’s library when she was ten. The tale of Fanny — a hapless girl who took command of her sexuality and wound up well taken-care-of — gave The Benefactor all the life-guidance she’d ever need.

The Dalai Lama Though the world thinks of her as crass and materialistic, deep inside The Benefactor knows she’s a spiritual person. Besides, she finds that reincarnation thing very appealing.

Napoleon In one of her previous lives, The Benefactor was emperor of France — and, indeed, of nearly all Europe. The Benefactor pictures her current incarnation as an opportunity to avoid repeating Bonaparte’s mistakes. Unlike him, she’ll achieve all her life goals!

Habitats

Flirting with the pilot of her private jet or trying to bargain down the price of a blender at Target. There’s nothing The Benefactor loves more than saving a few pennies.

Varieties

  • The Climber Has buried three self-made men — so far!
  • The Heiress Having grown up rich, she has no need for a personal style. Hence the braids and navy cloth coats.
  • The Duchess Went to Europe and married a title.

Attitude

“I could always bequeath my millions to the local hospital, you know.”

Sustenance

Since attaining her majority, The Benefactor has never been spotted ingesting anything other than bourbon and cigarettes. To the dismay of many, she actually seems to thrive on this unlikely diet. And doesn’t she love pissing people off with her longevity!

Often Heard Saying …

  • “Give me one goddamn reason why I shouldn’t buy another Bentley!”
  • "Would you look at how that water skiing instructor fills out his surf baggies!”
  • "Raphael, Michelangelo — what’s the difference?”

Family

Coming out of the woodwork. It’s quite amazing how many third-removed relatives show up when you have money.

Education

On her back whenever possible. Oh, for the days of being tutored!

Mating Patterns

Ties the legal knot on average once a decade, but doesn’t let it get in the way of frequent adventures. You wouldn’t want to make it through life without having explored the lovemaking styles of all kinds of different men, would you?

Biggest Challenge

Fending off her kids’ attempt to have her declared incompetent.

High Point

When the local art critic proclaimed the portrait of her that was hung over the Museum’s Entry Desk a masterpiece. See: Buying the city newspaper was a totally worthwhile investment, even it’s a money-loser.

What Art Means to Her

Class.

The Art of …
ENDOWING A MUSEUM WING

Do This!
String the Museum Director along purely for your own amusement. You should be able to extort hundreds of four-star meals and tons of brown-nosing out of him before you’ll feel obliged to either write that check or die.

Don’t Do This!
Don’t allow the Board to build your wing in a style that complements the Museum’s beloved Neoclassical edifice. Insist instead that the Museum use an edgy architect whose design will cause loads of controversy — more publicity for you! Your name will dominate the entryway no matter how jagged the typeface.

 

THE FUNDRAISER

Gifted with a gregarious spirit and enormous personal charm, The Fundraiser is a true six degrees of connection gal. Married to a successful — but not successful enough — man, she knows how the city’s social game works, she’s familiar with the state of everyone’s finances, and she’s a wiz at using the prestige of Art to get people to play along with her schemes. By the time she’s 60, she’ll have made it to the top of the local social heap!

Role Models

Georgette Mosbacher While taking a break from nursing the twins, she read a profile of Georgette in Vanity Fair. Here was a woman who achieved fame via networking, money wheedling and overshadowing her husband. “I can do that!” thought The Fundraiser.

Arianna Huffington Reading Arianna’s Picasso biography gave The Fundraiser the idea that she could make her own mark in the culture world. And how inspiring that Arianna went on to conquer the worlds of politics and money!

Brooke Astor The Fundraiser knows that she will spend her golden years as a gracious, celebrated, and loved institution. The Fundraiser will end her days far better, though — her own kids adore her.

Habitats

On the hands-free cellphone in her Audi SUV. Showing an unpaid intern how she wants her home office organized.

Varieties

  • Staffer Anxious about the way so many jobs are being outsourced these days.
  • Freelancer Dividing her professional efforts between six local nonprofits.
  • Volunteer Sulking, because her idea to run a benefit for the homeless was shot down by the Museum’s director.

Attitude

“I truly believe in what I’m doing. This is going to be the best event ever. And don’t you dare hang up on me again!”

Sustenance

Diet Coke and sandwiches when dining on her own dime, the Deluxe Sushi Platter when on the Museum’s.

Often Heard Saying …

  • “You’d be the perfect sponsor for our Sunday Brunch With An Artist program!”
  • "The annual Fall Auction is going to be star-studded!”
  • "There are many ways to leave a bequest. I’m sure you’ll find one that’s very suitable.”

Family

Grew up in the least prosperous cul de sac of a respectable suburb. No such cruel fate for her own kids! They’re attending the best private academy in town, thanks to a discount she obtained doing volunteer work for the school.

Education

Public schools and a state college. But her real education didn’t begin until she was taken up by a gray-haired tycoon, who showed her how the local power scene really works.

Mating Patterns

Hubby’s a lovely man, if far less ambitious than she foresaw. The mentor-mentee relationship with her tycoon? It never became sexual — unless you count that one time when he asked to see her breasts …

Biggest Challenge

Keeping the hometown musician who went on to become a national pop star returning every year to perform for the annual Dinner and Wine Gala in the Sculpture Garden.

High Point

Incorporating as an LLC.

What Art Means to Her

Never cared for it until one day, when she burst into tears while looking at minor Monet Water Lily painting. Too bad that the art that she’s begun to love is so far out of her price range.

The Art of …
REELING IN THAT MAJOR DONOR

Do This!
Seize the right moment. If you can force your obscenely rich prey to admit that he’s considering giving a large sum to the museum in front of his friends, you’re halfway home. Tearfully praise his generosity while shaking his hand in front of a large table at the country club, then apologize for being so emotional. Make social shaming your ally!

Don’t Do This!
If you learn that your prey is considering using his money to buy a new radiation machine for the local hospital, don’t back down. Remember, the arts are of vital importance. Explain that cancer treatment is available everywhere, but a fine Tracey Emin installation is a rare thing indeed.

 

THE DOCENT

An inescapable presence in the Museum’s galleries, inevitably equipped with formidable vocal equipment, The Docent takes groups of guests on tours of the Museum’s collections. Less familiar is her other responsibility: visiting local schools, where she strives to instill a love for fine art in pop-culture-obsessed young minds. The Docent never gives in to feelings that this may be a hopeless endeavor and remains staunch in her conviction that Art is Always and Everywhere A Good Thing.

Role Models

Frida Kahlo Frida loved deeply, lived in a folksy Third-World country, painted self-portraits, and a beautiful biopic was made about her long after her death. What’s not to feel inspired by?

Sister Wendy This English nun showed The Docent that art could be presented to the public in an intelligent yet fun way. While giving her own tours, The Docent sometimes treats herself to the fantasy that she’s a beloved PBS institution herself.

Ms. Marjory Knutsen The Docent didn’t find her vocation as an A-student until Ms. Knutsen’s 4th-grade class. What a challenge it was to read Edith Wharton! And what a shock it came as, years later, to learn that Ms. Knutsen had been a lesbian. But that’s OK, she was a nice person!

Habitats

Showing her cleaner where to dust in her modernist house, or memorizing facts from a guidebook while on a Smithsonian tour.

Varieties

  • The Dymano She’ll be giving the Renaissance collection tour soon!
  • The Newbie Still struggling with how to pronounce “chiaroscuro.”
  • The Senior Wondering if the time has come to devote her charitable energies to the Rescue Dog Society instead.

Attitude

“God, I hope nobody in this group knows more than I do!”

Sustenance

Available at a 10% discount at The Museum Cafe. Knows she should never indulge in a third glass of Chardonnay — but after having had two, how to say No? Wishes she didn’t have quite such a weakness for that heavenly Mondrian Cheesecake.

Often Heard Saying …

  • “Please note the use of …”
  • "I’d like to propose that The Museum set aside Reserved Parking for the Docents.”
  • "When I was at Chatauqua last summer …”

Family

Aside from a Viagra addiction and a recurring midlife crisis, Hubby couldn’t be more solid! And aside from a few DUIs and stints in rehab, the kids are doing great!

Education

Would have loved to go to Smith — and knows she’d have been admitted if only that darned Marcy Wilde hadn’t stolen the high school’s Student Council Presidency election from her.

Mating Patterns

Mates for life — and, no doubt because of this, obsesses over the sexy bad boy who flirted with her back in sophomore Psych.

Biggest Challenge

Pretending enthusiasm for that “Art of the Post-War Italian Sports Car” touring exhibit. Only show her husband visited a second time, wouldn’t you know it.

High Point

Finding a vase that turned her patio into the Bonnard painting that she always envisioned it as.

What Art Means to Her

Self-improvement.

The Art of …
PRESENTING THE NUDE

Do This!
March right up to the Museum’s one Mapplethorpe. Fearlessness is your byword here! Adamantly maintain that Mapplethorpe was the great classical artist of the late 20th century while at all costs avoiding mention of the anus on display. If any of your tour group members seem uneasy, instantly transform the conversation into a First Amendment debate.

Don’t Do This!
Husbands to a man adore technical virtuosity and pretty nudes, and will try to stall the group in front of academic 19th century allegorical nymph-and-faun paintings. Don’t let them — remember, you’re in charge. Dismiss these works as kitsch and move the group promptly into the Judy Chicago retrospective in the next gallery.

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