Top Museum Curators Are Joining Art Galleries. What’s Behind This Shift?

Installation view of “Elfie Semotan: Color y carne / Color and Flesh,” 2022, at Galeria Campeche, Mexico City, which Davila-Villa & Stothart consulted on. COURTESY DAVILA-VILLA & STOTHART

If Katherine Rochester, who has a PhD in art history, had been told 10 years ago that she would work at a gallery, she would not have believed it. “I think 75 percent of the people who go to art history graduate school are doing it to become curators,” she told ARTnews in a recent interview. “You weren’t getting a PhD to work in a commercial gallery.”

Her doctorate on experimental animation in interwar Europe led her to roles at museums and foundations, including the VIA Art Fund, the Getty Research Institute, and the Whitney Museum over the past 15 years. But in February, Rochester surprised herself when she announced she would join blue-chip gallery Lehmann Maupin, which has four locations around the world, as curatorial director.

During her job search, Rochester interviewed with collecting museums, but found the demands of that process, and in turn what is expected of a senior curator, unnecessarily arduous: “I was finding that some of the tasks were just really exhausting,” she recalled. “One institution flew me out and asked me to present three years of programming with budgets… at the end I decided I did not want to work like that.”

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