Arts Critic Undertakes Creation of a Master's Program in Curatorial Practice

Nir Arieli

Steven Henry Madoff
September 16, 2013

In a career that has spanned nearly 40 years, since he published his first piece of criticism, Steven Henry Madoff has been an author, critic, teacher, poet, editor, art historian, and curator. Now he is taking on the role of founding chair of a master's program in curatorial practice at the School of Visual Arts, in New York City.

Students will study the research methodologies used in curation, the history of 20th- and 21st-century exhibits, exhibition making, and the practice of art itself, to better understand the challenges faced by artists. In their second year, they will serve an internship and create their own exhibitions. The first class is expected to graduate in 2016.

Mr. Madoff, who is 58, hopes the program will give students an expansive view of the field. In the global art world, he says, "curators are thinking across national boundaries, across cultures, across disciplines, across media, and that is definitely a tendency that we want to pay attention to."

After he began teaching at the School of Visual Arts, in 2011, Mr. Madoff saw an opportunity to develop what he calls "very much of a trade school" for aspiring curators.

Such programs in curation, though still relatively uncommon, have arisen in Europe, the United States, and Canada over the past two decades. Mr. Madoff says he plans to take advantage of "the very rich curatorial resources" of New York, which he describes as "one of the greatest cities on the planet in terms of exhibition making."

Faculty members, he says, are "thinking of the program as a kind of hub—not simply an academic cloister, but interfacing with experts from all over the world." That exposure, he hopes, will give students "a true leg up in getting a job."

Infusing his vision for the program is Mr. Madoff's background as a theorist on art education. In 2009 he edited Art School (Propositions for the 21st Century), a collection of essays by artists and others on the future of art education. That work led him to teaching, first at Yale University's School of Art and then at the School of Visual Arts.


Mr. Madoff's bachelor's degree, from Columbia University, and his master's, from Stanford University, are both in English. He was executive editor of ARTnews from 1987 to 1994, and his art criticism has appeared in Time magazine, The New York Times, Artforum, and other publications. Among his books are a volume of poetry, While We're Here (Hard Press, 1999), and a critical overview of the life and work of the sculptor Christopher Wilmarth, published by Princeton University Press in 2004. He recently directed a group show, "Host & Guest," at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art.

The School of Visual Arts's provost, Jeffrey D. Nesin, who helped conceive the new program, praises Mr. Madoff's publications and curatorial experience: "He's done this work internationally at the highest level."

Mr. Madoff says he plans to tap his connections in the art world "to create a wonderful faculty. I'm delighted for the program that we've created an advisory council made up of directors or lead curators from 15 museums around the world. I am after creating a global network with this program.

"And," he says, "I can do it."