Watching all three installments of Ben Stiller’s comedy film “Night at the Museum” makes me realize once again my childhood dream to work in a museum. I always have been curious about what kind of vibe the museum staff encounters every time they roam around the establishment. Are they getting scared sometimes? Is it always excitement and awe for them even if they go to the museum every day?
Good thing I found ExhibiTricks’s exclusive interview just last year with Gary Vikan, a longtime museum director or curator. Vikan served as curator for 28 years. How cool is that? Let’s find out what it’s like to work in a museum for almost three decades!
The Responsibilities of a Museum Director
First, we must understand the work of a museum director, who is also called a curator. Museum directors are responsible for the secured storage and procurement of archives, artifacts and artworks. They also facilitate exhibitions inside the museum. They purchase works of history and art, commonly through negotiations, to serve as the museum’s displays.
All about Gary Vikan
Check out Vikan’s personal and professional life inside and outside the museum through the years:
In the later part of his career, Vikan was the director of Baltimore’s Walters Art Museum since 1994. He ended his work there by 2013. Before getting the director position, he was the assistant director for the same museum’s Curatorial Affairs starting 1985.
When it comes to Vikan’s university life before entering the world of museums, he was the senior associate of Harvard’s Center for Byzantine Studies. That time, he lived in Dumbarton Oaks, Washington D.C., not in Baltimore. Vikan achieved his BA in Carleton College. Years later, he accomplished his Ph. D. in Princeton University. Lastly, he was a graduate of the National Arts Strategies Chief Executive Program and the Harvard Program for Art Museum Directors.
Motivation to Work in Museums
What exactly motivated Vikan to pursue a career in a museum? The curator wanted to share the effect art has on him to other people. When he was a scholar in Harvard’s Center for Byzantine Studies, he was busy teaching people in the Smithsonian Residents’ Association Program. He aimed to relate with people and use his scholarship for the greater good. In order to connect with a huge group of people, he used his love for art as an inspiration.
Most Favorite Exhibitions
Vikan has two most favorite exhibitions, which are too different from each other when it comes to the subject in focus. His first favorite happened 25 years ago which was called “Holy Image, Holy Space: Icons and Frescoes from Greece.” That exhibition was his first most successful event because of the effect it gave to the visitors. Vikan could still remember seeing kiss marks on the Plexiglass of the icons. For him, it was a holy moment.
On the other hand, “Beauty and the Brain” is Vikan’s other favorite exhibition. It happened a few years ago. It was just a simple event, but it remained as Vikan’s one of the most beloved. The exhibition became successful because of its collaboration with one of Johns Hopkins’ neuroscientists. Vikan loved it so much because of how interactive it was. The visitors get to pick their favorite shape among the multitude of shapes with subtle differences. Vikan explained that the visitors eventually realized that they are “hard wired” to connect with specific shapes.
Vikan managed to publish his controversial book titled “Sacred and Stolen: Confessions of a Museum Director” last year. He aimed to share to the public the darker side of museums because he knew that he lived to tell stories. He had stories that he could not express as a director. Now that he is retired, he is already free to write any book about these stories. He believed that people deserve to know everything about the strange things happening in art museums.
Museums are essential to preserve art and history. Without them, humans would have less connection with their forefathers. Museums hold the heart and soul of mankind.