Yesterday was officially "Ask A Curator" Day on Twitter: members of the public were invited to ask museum curators questions about their profession, background, personal interests, and even how much coffee they drink! Over 1,300 international museums participated, including the FIDM Museum. Associate Curator Christina Johnson gamely answered questions all day from curious minds around the world. If you missed her responses, check out our recap below. Of course, Ask A Curator isn't limited to one day - feel free to ask questions anytime on social media or the blog!
How do you determine what exhibition to curate next?
It's an ongoing conversation with Curator Kevin Jones, our co-workers, and our community. Exhibitions take years to research and everyone on this planet has a finite number of those, so we want to make each one as meaningful as possible.
What's the first thought when preparing to curate an exhibit?
The first thought is always the object list, getting that group of objects together and moving forward from there.
If you could jump into an artwork and live there 24h which would you choose and why?
I would wear our 1907 Redfern court gown and top it with a Cartier diamond tiara. And since we're talking fantasy, I would make sure to go to Buckingham Palace and meet Queen Alexandra.
Court gown & train
Redfern, 1907 (London, England)
Museum Purchase, Funds provided by Yvonne Hummel
What is the biggest misconception people have about curators?
That all we do is research. I also juggle donor relations, budgets, storage, and media. Honestly, there's never enough time to sit down with a book!
What's something you wish the general public knew/understood about curation?
Even after years of study, and seeing thousands and thousands of objects, you still come across things you’ve never seen before!
What is the biggest compliment a museum visitor can give you?
This is the most beautiful exhibition I have ever seen!
I've always wondered how women's dresses of the past impact the ways you inhabit space?
Think about bustled gowns of the 1880s with a metal understructure to support the fabric. Not only did women take up tons of space in these, they also needed to know how to move while wearing them—you’d be a klutz if you didn’t have deportment lessons!
What is the missing "holy grail" item you want for your collection?
A c. 1800 riding habit, preferably a summer habit in cream or light blue. If you have one, I beg you to send it our way!
What is one of the funniest objects in your collection?
A pair of 1950s boxer shorts painted with a bunch of bananas, a bare-breasted lady, a ruler going from 1 to 12 inches on the fly, and the phrase, “Everything grows big in California!"
Men's boxers, 1950s
Hollytown Manufacturing Company
What museum exhibition or gallery show would you travel back in time to see? Or whose studio would you like to visit?
The couture palace at the Paris Exposition of 1900 AND “The Opulent Era: Fashions of Worth, Doucet and Pingat” at the Brooklyn Museum in 1989.
Do FIDM students have input in future exhibitions decisions? Have you ever exhibited any students or alumni?
We have recently begun showcasing student work in conjunction with our History Gallery exhibitions. Students are inspired by the historic objects on display and reinterpret them for modern audiences. All majors can participate! We have also been thinking of doing an alumni exhibition.
What challenges do you see for the future of collections management?
Dealing with degrading modern materials, such as vinyl, plastics, and composites and also contending with archiving digital imagery that can corrupt.
What object have you been most nervous to handle or put on exhibit? Why?
We have an 1840s bonnet with a cockade of spun glass. I don’t even like moving the box it’s in!
What's the hardest object in your collection to maintain?
A late 1970s Seditionaries label punk T-shirt with rubber elements that are crumbling. Modern materials are just the worst--they aren't mean to last! 18th century stuff lasts longer!
Jacket and Shirt
Malcom McLaren and Vivienne Westwood
Seditionaries Personal Collection, Label
Museum Purchase, Funds Provided by Dorothy Washington Sorensen, by exchange
2010.5.61 and 2010.5.63
What got you into the study of the fashion industry and fashion history?
I was born with an interest in fashion history. By 6th grade I had memorized all of the fashion books in my local library in Santa Monica and had to go to the larger Downtown LA library for more! I’ve always loved looking at historical fashions and wondering what it all means.
Is there an object in your collection with a distinct smell? What makes it smell like that?
Sometimes leather is cured with urine and that smells super gross! Yes, objects coming out of trunks do have a distinct ‘old clothes’ odor! But most of that is gone by the time we freeze and vacuum them.
How do you think being a museum curator makes your experiences visiting other museums unique? What do you look for/enjoy?
As a curator, I know how much time, energy, and emotion goes into planning an exhibition and I think I can especially appreciate that when I visit other galleries.
What's your museum's best kept secret?
That our collections spans over 200 years of fashion history and our exhibitions are always FREE!
Is there a particular time period in which you are most interested?
So difficult to choose, but I love women's 1840s and 1850s fashions and also the early 1930s (because who doesn’t adore bias cut gowns?)
Silk Jacquard Evening Gown
Best advice to an aspiring curator?
Immerse yourself in your favorite topics/eras because you will become an authority and it will pay off!
If you had an unlimited budget and could buy a work today – whose work would you buy?
I would literally buy out the haute couture each season…but maybe that’s being greedy!
What's your favorite space in your museum?
Our main storage room, with drawers and racks full of amazing things!
What is the most challenging aspect of putting a collection or exhibit together?
Ugh. The challenge is always finding funding.
How many cups of coffee do you drink while installing an exhibition?
I was recently told I had to give up coffee because I was drinking too much of it to get through projects and was getting super jittery, but I will say the latest I have been at work during installation is 2:30AM.
What kind of music do you listen to on your way to work?
I listen to Kirtan, Classical, and also NPR.
What are your non-museum hobbies?
Yoga, meditation, and dog rescue.
What is your favorite thing about being a curator?
Seeing and handling treasures every single day.
If you had to describe your curatorial experiences in one word, what would it be?