Earlier this spring, I found myself with some extra time on my hands, so I made my way over to 17th street & 7th avenue to visit an old friend: the Rubin Museum of Art. As I was walking around the space I had known so well so many years ago, I came across an installation that chilled me to the bone. I stood in front of it, frozen in disbelief. And then, I began to laugh out loud. People around me took some steps back. And I know at some point between my fits of laughter I must have shouted, “No. Fucking. Way.”
Okay, let me backtrack a bit. Eight years ago, I had done an internship at the Rubin, after studying and working in Paris, and partaking in the common backpacking ‘round Europe thing. I came back home convinced that becoming a museum curator was my calling.
I knew zero about museums and even less about art, but here’s the thing: while in Europe, I must have stepped foot in over a dozen museums. And then (cue suspense music), enter the Checkpoint Charlie museum in Berlin. I was immediately excited for two reasons: one, I knew nothing about the Cold War, so my inner geek couldn’t WAIT to get through the doors; and two, theirs was by far the most expensive ticket to purchase, so surely, they must have some pretty awesome shit to show.
I won’t do a detailed critique of the exhibit now, but let me just say that when I left the museum, I was more confused about the Cold War than when I had gone in.
As I was walking around Berlin later that afternoon, I instinctively began in my mind to think about how I could have done that exhibit better. And that’s when it hit me: I knew I could easily do something better. I knew that I would make an AMAZING museum curator.
So check it, coming back to New York, I began to dip my toes into the industry. I scored an internship in the Education Department of the highly coveted Rubin Museum of Art. Okay, on my first day, MY FIRST DAY, there was a staff meeting. I remember the head of the department at one point asking around the table if anyone had any ideas or opinions on how to improve the exhibits. I raised my hand.
“Well,” I began shyly, “I know that the art we have was created as religious art. What if we created an exhibit that showed this art in context, as it is normally used?”
The room felt uncomfortably quiet. Then the boss smiled and said “thank you, that’s a great idea.” But really he meant, “thank you, sweet young girl. But no, not really.”
I think that’s the first and only time I gave them an idea. Months passed. One day, I was given the task to research what kind of fellowships other museums offered. And that’s when I came across the Hilla Von Rebay International fellowship. Nine months working in the curatorial team of 3 Guggenheim museums around the world. Holy mother of God.
Hahaha… I decided to apply. I had all the requirements except two: a master’s degree and a mastery of the Italian language. A year later, I got into NYU’s Museum Studies program and scored a scholarship on the side to study Italian. Even better, I got to do an internship at a villa-museum in Florence, where I got to put everything that I was studying into practice.
As I was finishing up my thesis, I had become completely dissatisfied with the field for two main reasons:
1- Learning about the history of museums and how deeply rooted they are in so many fucked up things immediately turned me off. So by the time I applied to that Guggenheim fellowship, I literally met all their requirements and then some, but my heart was no longer in the game. In fact, I prayed that I wouldn’t get in.
2- During my second semester of grad school, I had enrolled in Mama Gena’s School of Womanly Arts, and what I learned there began to beckon me more and more and more…
Luckily, my prayers were answered, and I was not a recipient of that fellowship. Soon after graduating, I completely left the field. I taught Bikram full time until I figured out what the heck to do with my degree.
I’ve since realized that I don’t need a museum, a gallery, or the approval of the head of the department to put my ideas into motion. I now create and curate content and events to my heart’s desire. That’s the thing: I am now using my background as a museum curator to create what I desire without having to jump through anybody’s hoops. Hurray!
So, to bring it back in: this spring, as I visited the Rubin, what I saw that brought me into a state of shock was their relatively new installation: a room full of Himalayan art as it is used in context.
Moral of the story: you are brilliant. Honoring your brilliance is a MUST for Exquisite Self Care. Do what you love and give yourself the freedom and space to do it. And if the people around you do not see your brilliance, then take the leap into the unknown and trust that you will end up exactly where you need to.
PS- I’m the most interesting person you know to go to a museum with, cause I’ll share with you so many awesome things I learned about them. Hey, just cause I’m not in the field doesn’t mean I’m gonna let over a hundred-thou education go to waste!