Diary of a Curator
Bras Basah Bugis
(All images taken by Tactic)
A day in the life of a Singapore Art Museum curator
The word curator comes from the latin term “curare”, meaning “to care for”. In context, the curator is a person who cares for objects. But what exactly does the day-to-day life of a curator look like?
Assistant curator John Tung of the Singapore Art Museum (SAM) has heard all sorts of hilarious notions. The most popular misconception is “party planner” (he wishes). The second most common is “tour guide”, which is not 100 percent wrong as he does conduct curator tours. However, a curator’s job is much more than that. To find out, we asked John to walk us through a day in the life of a curator.
9.00am – Curatorial meeting
In the morning, I sit down with the team for a curatorial meeting. This involves everyone in the curatorial team, including our curatorial co-heads Tan Siuli and Joyce Toh.
There are a couple of things on the agenda, but in general, we plan future shows, decide the creative direction for upcoming exhibitions and do some long-term strategic thinking about where SAM should be headed.
Curators captain the museum’s vision. We set goals for SAM as an institution while thinking about the best possible way to showcase our art. Sometimes we debate about matters like how we display a certain artwork or what colour of paint should go on the walls.
10.30am – Writing
Whenever there’s some writing to be done, I prefer heading out to writing in the office. Dome Cafe used to be my favourite spot because I could sit outdoors and enjoy a long black (coffee). After it closed down, I moved over to Asanoya Bakery.
Writing is a big part of any curator’s job. We write essays explaining the vision or concept behind a certain exhibition. We write creative prompts that we send out to various artists. We even write captions for artworks.
The last one is a little tricky, we can’t simply explain everything because art is meant to provoke people into thinking. On the flip side, my writing needs to be accessible enough to cater to everyone.
11.45am – Administrative work
Email captions to the marketing team – check. Monitor the progress status for certain art pieces we’ve commissioned – check. Update the project management team with a timeline on when certain pieces will be arriving – check.
I’m in charge of the Thai contemporary portfolio at SAM. Hence, I spend quite a lot of time talking to artists from Thailand and figuring out which artists should be featured for what exhibition.
Right now, things are a little hectic because our latest exhibition for Children’s Season, “Imaginarium: To the Ends of the Earth”, just opened recently and there’s always work to be done: like maintainence, spot checks and even tours to give.
12.15pm – Lunch meeting
Today, I’m having lunch with a gallerist to discuss an artist whose work we’re keen to
acquire. Over my second coffee of the day, we talk about the artist’s practice, past
exhibitions and artworks.
1.30pm – Changi Prison
I cab over to the “Visual Arts Hub” in Changi Prison.
At Changi Prison, we have a programme where prisoners are given a chance to create art
as part of their rehabilitation. Coached by Lasalle professors, they create ceramics, batik,
paintings and more. At the end of their programme, there will be an exhibition and all
proceeds go to the Yellow Ribbon project.
Part of my job here is really to help them learn about art. I do my best to broaden their
artistic horizons while providing my curatorial expertise for the Yellow Ribbon exhibition.
Many of the prisoners are 50 or 60 years old and they have a lot to teach me. They learn
about art, but I learn so much more from their life experiences.
5.00pm – Home
It’s been a hard day’s night and I head home to my family for a claypot rice dinner.
7.20pm – Another cafe
The day is not over just yet. As a curator, I have to be informed about the latest goings-on
when it comes to art and culture, especially when it relates to the contemporary Southeast
After dinner, I head out to a Cafe in Holland V for a bit of quiet reading and my last coffee of
the day. Right now, I’m rereading E.H. Gombrich’s The Story of Art to prepare for the
lectures I give to the Yellow Ribbon inmate-artists.
The Singapore Art Museum is located at 71 Bras Basah Rd, Singapore 189555.
Opening hours are 10am to 7pm daily, and 10am to 9pm on Fridays.
Imaginarium: To the Ends of the Earth will run from May 6 to Aug 27, 2017. The exhibition
will be held at the nearby SAM at 8Q while the Singapore Art Museum undergoes a major
revamp. Follow SAM’s Facebook page for further details to come.
Author: Bras Basah Bugis
24 May 2017