Networks Created Within Exhibition: The Curators’ Effect on Historical Recognition
This research examines artist networks created by shared museum exhibition. While previous research on artistic careers assesses self-cultivated networks, historical recognition may be further influenced by connections created by important others, such as museum curators and art historians. I argue when museum exhibitions show artists together, curators are creating symbolic associations between artists that signal the artist’s import and contextualization within his or her peer group. These exhibition-created associations, in turn, influence historians who must choose a small selection of artists to exemplify a historical cohort. The research tests this idea through a cohort of 125 artists’ exhibition networks in the Museum of Modern Art, New York, from 1929 to 1968 (996 exhibitions). Individual network variables, such as number and quality of connections, are examined for impact on an artist’s recognition in current art history textbooks (2012-2014). Results indicate certain connections created by exhibition have a positive effect on historical recognition, even when controlling for individual accomplishments of the artist (such as solo exhibitions). Artists connected with prestigious artists through “strong symbolic ties” (i.e., repeated exhibition) tend to garner the most historical recognition, suggesting robust associations with historical peers may signify an artist’s exemplary status within his or her cohort, and consequent “good fit” into the historical narrative.