Curator plans to modernize MoMA

The photography department at the Museum of Modern Art is undergoing a conceptual overhaul. On Feb. 26, NYU’s La Maison Française hosted a conversation between Quentin Bajac, the department’s chief curator and Shelley Rice, a Tisch art history professor. The discussion focused on Bajac’s current work and his goals for the museum, which he says represent a major departure from the tenure of his predecessors.

“I think that it would not make sense today to go on doing the same thing,” Bajac said. “One of the problems today of the mega-institution is that they are all doing the same thing. It’s maybe time to change and be young.”

Part of this fresh perspective stems from his French heritage, which makes him MoMA’s first non-American curator. Before joining MoMA in 2013, Bajac was most well known for curating collections at the Musée d’Orsay and the Centre Pompidou.

The New York City art community has anticipated Bajac’s stateside arrival. Tisch sophomore Phoebe Boosalis was intrigued by what Bajac had
to say.

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“I’ve been excited to hear Quentin speak for some time since he moved from the Pompidou in Paris to MoMA,” Boosalis said.

By incorporating a fresh look at 19th century masters and encouraging the integration of new works by contemporary photographers, Bajac focuses on the history of the photographic medium while instilling a more narrative, international and cross-disciplinary approach.

“With the first collection I did in February 2014, I tried to focus on studio practices and to try and tell a narrative that was slightly different from the narrative you usually associate with MoMA,” Bajac said. “It was a good time to write a narrative on studio practices, especially on the contemporary American scene as a lot of young artists are working directly within their studio on their laptops.”

Bajac likes to format a mixed-media dialogue by including film, sculpture and drawings within his photographic displays. His exhibition incorporates a synthesis of formal images, amateur photographs and scientific works. 

“I’m a little tired of classical presentations, starting with early 19th century photography and then going to contemporary photography through a progression of techniques,” he said. “I am interested in trying to have an inter-disciplinary approach, and this is why I decided to include video and film. Each exhibition is a kind of montage and I like that contamination.”

Rice considers Bajac’s contemporary perspective an exciting step forward for New York City museums.

“It’s an enormous shift,” Rice said. “It seems to me that he works less with the idea that you should go into an installation and essentially walk through the history like you’re going through the Stations of the Cross. Instead, he seems to be working off a much more montage basis — an installation opening up possibilities of the medium while giving form, context, and history et cetera. That’s a very different attitude.”

Bajac also hopes to revitalize MoMA by applying modern technology to the world of art. In the future, he foresees a transnational gallery, which can be translated to an online platform for the viewer’s benefit.

“We should also consider the website not only as an extension of the physical museum but to try and build a real online museum,” Bajac said. “We will commission works or buy works just to be seen online because a lot of artists today are producing that form of work, to be seen from the screen of
a laptop.”

A version of this article appeared in the Monday, March 2 print edition. Email Zoe Thompson at [email protected]

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