With a background in literature and history of art, Lilian Cameron has taken her professional career through the most prestigious museums including Tate Britain and Tate Modern. Now Semester Faculty at Sotheby's Institute London, she teaches the 15-week course ‘Art Museums, Galleries, and Curating’ and shares insights on what to expect in curating today, and how to best prepare for a career in a rapidly evolving art world.
Tell us about your career trajectory and how you came to work at Sotheby's Institute in London.
I traveled for research throughout Europe during my PhD, which investigated representations of memory among particular artists and writers of the late-twentieth century. Alongside all the time in libraries, I visited exhibitions, museums and biennials and decided to look for work in museums and galleries in London. It wasn’t easy, but I was lucky to find positions at Tate Modern and Tate Britain, and at the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts, University of East Anglia. I built up my skills across a range of learning and curatorial projects and worked with colleagues in truly talented and dynamic teams.
I loved working in museums and galleries, but also missed teaching and an academic environment. At the Institute much of my teaching is on site in museums and galleries, and I enjoy this opportunity to bring my academic and professional experience together.
Your research speciality is in gallery and museum memory environments, and the ways modern and contemporary artists intervene in and converse with historic or traditional gallery spaces. How does this influence your teaching on the 15-week course ‘Art Museums, Galleries, and Curating’?
I think of galleries and museums as places that produce culture as well as look after objects. Culture is connected to memory and I encourage students to ask questions and think analytically about the kinds of stories being told, remembered or forgotten in exhibitions and displays around London. Students will hear from a range of expert lecturers and curators on the course, not just me, and the area of my teaching falls on the modern and contemporary side of our course material. Having studied and worked with contemporary artists whose practices challenge our idea of the gallery space and the ways in which we have come to engage with it today, I often bring this material into my teaching in lectures and site visits so that students can hear about real-world examples.
In your opinion, what advantages are there to studying curating in London?
The great range and diversity of galleries, museums and curatorial practice on offer here. There is an abundance of large historical institutions in London and no better place to explore hidden, historical gems as well. There is also a great range of modern and contemporary spaces, alongside spaces that re-define what a gallery and curator can be today. The role of the curator is ever-shifting, as is the space and function of a gallery, and London is a great place to see this in action across a variety of platforms.
What can students who take ‘Art Museums, Galleries, and Curating’ expect?
An intensive, immersive, enjoyable and rigorous course, that equips students with academic knowledge alongside practical experience and an understanding of the museum and gallery sector, as it came into being and as it stands today. They can also expect to finish the course with first-hand experience of handling objects, of pitching an exhibition concept, going behind-the-scenes in a conservation lab and gallery art store, and analysing museum and gallery space on site.
What advice would you have for someone starting out in their career in the international art world?
Find your particular area of interest and once you have found it, have faith that your hard work will pay off - opportunities will arise! If you are still discovering your interest, look and listen as much as you can and remember that learning takes place outside as much as inside the classroom.