Training at the Harvard Art Museums: Jessica Morgan

October 23, 2013
 Jessica Morgan. Photo: Courtesy of Jessica Morgan.

The Harvard Art Museums have trained scores of museum leaders who have gone on to make remarkable contributions to the curatorial, conservation, and education fields. We offer a number of opportunities for emerging graduate and postgraduate scholars interested in the production and presentation of original scholarship within the museum context. In this regular series of interviews, we catch up with these museum professionals to see where they are now.

Jessica Morgan, Broad Curatorial Fellow at the Harvard Art Museums, 1994–95


Q  What is your current position?

A I am the Daskalopoulos Curator, International Art, at the Tate Modern. My work is both on exhibitions and the collection. We do not have defined departments by media or period, so our areas of research are fairly flexible when it comes to exhibition-making. Still, most of my work has been with international artists post-1960. For the [Tate] collection, I work on our acquisitions from the Middle East, North Africa, South Asia, and Europe.


Q Can you tell us about your experience as the Harvard Art Museums’ Broad Curatorial Fellow?

A I began my position just before there was a contemporary curatorial post at the Harvard Art Museums. My task was to curate an exhibition from the collections of Eli Broad. The result was a show at the Fogg Museum in 1996 titled The Mediated Object: Selections from the Eli Broad Collections. It was focused mainly on work from the 80s and early 90s that was concerned with appropriation and the readymade.

Q What have you gone on to do following the completion of your fellowship at the Harvard Art Museums?

A I went to the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago, and from there I served as Chief Curator at the ICA [Institute of Contemporary Art] Boston, before returning to the UK to work at Tate Modern. Even though at this point I have probably curated dozens of exhibitions, the job is still an absolute joy because it affords me the possibility to continue to learn. I am always amazed, and shocked, at how little I know about different eras and cultures. Right now I am also the Artistic Director of the Gwangju Biennale in 2014, so I spend a lot of time in Asia researching areas I have not explored before. Again, I have the chance to learn a great deal—not only about art but about its sociopolitical background.


Q How did your training at the Harvard Art Museums help you to prepare for the work that you are doing now?

A It gave me more time for research than I have had since. It was wonderful to work within a rich academic environment. I enjoyed being able to bridge the world of objects and the world of ideas. There were many very dedicated curators at the museums, and my experience made it very clear to me what an opportunity being a curator afforded, sitting between these two realms.


Q Was there a specific event during your training at the Harvard Art Museums that you found particularly powerful?

A I think the experience of working [on an exhibition] was of the most importance. I had spent some time at Yale University in the Yale Center for British Art, but my time at Harvard convinced me that being a curator was what I wanted to do. . . The Harvard Art Museums’ director at that time, Jim Cuno, was incredibly supportive (especially given how young I was), and the opportunity to work independently on an exhibition gave me the confidence thereafter to stick to my ambitions.