Tuesday, 5 August 2014



A few weeks ago had the pleasure of travelling to New York City and meeting with two fantastic curators of prints and drawings. Their refreshing outlook on curating paper collections has given me a new perspective for the future and purpose of prints in museums. Up until now, I have looked at print and drawing study rooms as a negative space, where most works on paper are secluded from the rest of the museum. However, after my conversation with the curators at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (Met), my outlook has changed. Assistant curator, Freyda Spira and the Print and Drawing department at the Met are doing wonderful work with their collection. Ms. Spira has fantastic insight on the history of the Met’s collection and its future initiatives. The department believes that print and drawing study rooms provide visitors with an opportunity to have an intimate experience with a work of art. As Ms. Spira pointed out, in no other department could you request to see a piece from the collection that is in storage. The study rooms allow individuals to examine works that may not be on display for many years.

The Met’s Print and Drawing Study Room
The Met’s Print and Drawing Study Room

As I have mentioned in my previous posts, the sensitivity of works on paper prevents them from frequently being on display. However, the Met presents a constant flow of three-month exhibitions in the print and drawing gallery. The limited amount of time that paper works can be on display for was not portrayed as a negative restriction, but as an opportunity to explore many themes within the museum's collection of 1.2 million works. I thoroughly enjoyed the display of prints and drawings, which managed to examine highlights from four-hundred and fifty years of Western art history.

A display comparing Lucas Cranach’s Venus and Cupid with Picasso’s modern interpretation
Another point that Ms. Spira brought up is that collections of other media are often incomplete. In many art museums, representing a complete history of style, culture, and artistic movements can almost be impossible. However, with over a million works, the Met's collection has built a well-rounded history of art through works on paper, without the gaps that are found in the collections of other departments (such as painting or sculpture). With the comprehensive nature of the Met's collection, the early print curators wanted to install a series of 'print invasions' in most of the Met galleries. In light of my interest in using prints to contextualize art and history, I found this concept fascinating. However, the natural light which is present in many of the Met galleries prevented this concept from being implemented, out of the fear that the works on paper would deteriorate. The enthusiasm of the department made me feel that the concept of a ‘print invasion’ was not out of the question if the conservation issues could somehow be combated. While I have enjoyed interviewing many museum professionals this summer, there have been a lot of negative perspectives presented on current issues affecting paper collections. As I finish my summer research, I appreciated being uplifted by the perspectives of the Met curators who are working with one of the largest paper collections in North America and are making the most of it.


  1. Thanks for sharing your experience, Katie! This is fantastic! Glad you could leave with a new and more "uplifting" perspective on the subject of your research. I've found that sometimes throughout the research process, we/the people involved in it are used to being in such critical mindsets that sometimes we lose sight of what is good/positive about the topic we are researching. While being critical and inquisitive is, of course, how good research flourishes, it's important, and as you alluded to, refreshing, to examine and inquire about the positive aspects of a topic as well!
    Can't wait to read the next update :)

  2. Thank you for your comment Brittney!

    I completely agree. The questions that I went in with were mostly critical and focused on the challenges facing print collections or how they are disenfranchised in museums. They responded to the questions in a way which showed how they embrace these restrictions and find ways to work with them in order to continue producing great exhibitions!