Curatorial Practice

Installation view of Charlie Sofo, Windows, 2019, as part of Shapeshifters: New Forms of Curatorial Practice. Photograph by Keelan O'Hehir.


Launched in March 2014, the MADA PhD specialising in Curatorial Practice is the first in Australia and among the first in the world. This program joins the field at a moment when the discipline of curating is as dynamic and contested as it is established. The Curatorial Practice PhD at MADA is practice-based, and supports a spectrum of doctoral projects, from experimental curatorial models to academic dissertations. The university is one of the few arenas for criticality and experimentation, and this program welcomes projects driven by these same qualities.

The program has become an international centre for radical curatorial models that reflect critically on how we engage with our cultures, our cities, and our world. It fosters curatorial projects that test the limits of arts institutions. It supports advanced scholarly work on exhibitions and their histories, conditions of art’s public appearance, and the politics of display. Finally, the program nurtures spaces of retreat to allow forms of research other than those that normally occur within the framework of educational institutions.

The PhD encourages slower and more sustained research, writing, and practice than is normally possible under the demands of contemporary curatorial practice. Curatorial work is pressured by professionalisation and overproduction, and at times diminished by a related shift from criticism to publicity. This program counters such trends by being rigorous but also adamantly open, examining the forms of knowledge produced by curating, but also cultivating spaces of reflection and experimentation.

PhD candidates develop arguments that evolve over several years and are tested by peers and modified constantly. The program looks closely at the systems of representation available to us, and the relations of artworks and artistic practices to conditions of production, labor, and appearance. Candidates query what forms of practice are neglected, which structures have calcified and why, and which need breaking apart. The program understands curatorial knowledge as a process rather than a result, and one that can be reflected on throughout.


Fayen d’Evie, Troy McConnell, Sophie Takách and Prue Lang, […] {…} […] handovers + translations. Gertrude Glasshouse, Melbourne, 8 – 29 Oct 2016. Photo by Pippa Samaya.

Candidates will have advanced knowledge of art, art history, arts institutions, and curating, or relevant fields of inquiry. The PhD in Curatorial Practice requires candidates to hold a minimum four-year Bachelor’s degree with Honours and a final grade of no less than H2A. Candidates will preferably hold a research Master’s qualification in a relevant discipline.

Candidates apply with a specific research project in mind, and will receive MADA’s support in realizing that project at the doctoral level. As it is a research degree, the PhD in Curatorial Practice does not provide vocational training in curating or arts administration. While situating the program within an active art school emphasises curating’s engagement with contemporary art, the program is open to applicants whose projects are interdisciplinary or historical in nature. MADA’s faculty, with expertise in art, architecture, design, theory, and history, is available to curatorial PhD candidates.

International candidates are highly encouraged to apply as well, and scholarships may be awarded to qualified applicants subject to University scholarship assessment and terms and conditions. Scholarship recipients may receive tuition and/or stipend, and must enroll full-time.

This program is ideal for independent curators with a significant research project that would benefit from being sited within an academic institution. These projects may take the form of an exhibition, or may be more experimental—spatially, temporally, and politically—and may dispense with the white cube and black box entirely. Projects engaging with the public sphere and urbanism will be supported.

The Curatorial Practice PhD welcomes curators embedded within institutions who propose either a project independent from that institution, or a project that would be realized within the institution, but would productively challenge or extend its normal procedures. Curatorial projects can, therefore, change institutions from within. Research proposals for these latter projects must demonstrate a significant addition to conventional parameters for an institutional exhibition, whether through expanded practice or writing.


Cecilia Vicuña, The Artist As…Poet, 2016, Bella Union, Melbourne; presented by Liquid Architecture; Ensayos; Institute of Modern Art, Brisbane; and Curatorial Practice at MADA (Photo: Keelan O’Hehir)

In addition to the program requirements of the MADA PhD, candidates meet occasionally during the academic year for a range of curatorial events. Candidates are required to attend these events, which allow multiple intakes of students to interact, and supplants the isolation that occurs during research, writing, and development of practice phases with built-in workshop sessions throughout the candidates’ tenure.

The curricula of these sessions is tailored to the candidates’ research interests, occasionally led by the candidates themselves, and takes advantage of guest lecturers, visiting artists, and significant exhibitions and events in Melbourne and further afield. These sessions foster the ecology of the program and assist with facilitating the mandatory requirements for completion of the Art Design & Architecture PhD: coursework units, skills training, and annual academic milestones.

A central focus of the Curatorial Practice PhD is improving curatorial writing. The program has hosted a curatorial retreat with an emphasis on writing for curatorial PhD candidates and invited guests from a range of fields, including literature, poetry, cinema, anthropology, history, political theory, and philosophy.

The program generates opportunities for candidates to publish by partnering with and supporting Melbourne’s thriving independent publishing field. The program also collaborates with international institutions to foster curatorial research through fora such as symposia, workshops, exhibitions, and publications.

On Site

Ariel Bustamante and Carolina Saquel: Precarious Symmetry, 2018, MADA Gallery, curated by Camila Marambio

One of the strongest advantages of the Curatorial Practice PhD is its location within an art school. MADA is a catalyst for creative engagement in the visual arts, and supports an active community of some of the country’s leading artists, designers, architects, thinkers and cultural producers. Curatorial work is inherently dialogic, research based, and interdisciplinary, which aligns it with the ethos of the art school. Candidates benefit enormously from being in constant contact with artists, designers, and architects, through formal and informal encounters. They gain a deeper knowledge of how art is made and its material production. Candidates are critiqued by fellow Fine Art doctoral candidates, and vice versa, and further collaborations beyond this structure are encouraged.


Claire Bishop at MPavilion, 2014, presented by MUMA in association with Curatorial Practice at Monash

MADA’s Curatorial Practice Advisory Board is comprised of individuals with strong ties to MADA or to curatorial education, and includes Johanna Burton, Director, Wexner Center for the Arts; Charlotte Day, Director, MUMA; Juan A. Gaitán, Director, Museo Tamayo Arte Contemporáneo; Alexie Glass-Kantor, Executive Director, Artspace, Sydney; Kathy Temin, Head of Fine Art, MADA; J. Myers-Szupinska, Associate Professor, Curatorial Practice, California College of the Arts; Anne M. Wagner, Class of 1936 Professor Emerita of Modern and Contemporary Art at the University of California, Berkeley; and Tirdad Zolghadr, writer and curator.

The PhD program occurs in collaboration with a number of key local institutions, foremost MADA and MUMA, a museum of contemporary art committed to innovative, experimental and research-based contemporary art and curatorial practice. Candidates engage with artists, curators, and thinkers practicing in Melbourne, as well as international visitors, including Claire Bishop, Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev, Céline Condorelli, Clémentine Deliss, Charles Esche, Hou Hanru, Lars Bang Larsen, Latitudes (Max Andrews and Mariana Cánepa Luna), Emily Pethick, Raqs Media Collective, Terry Smith, Jarosław Suchan, Jalal Toufic, Cecilia Vicuña, and Tirdad Zolghadr.

The PhD program is led by Tara McDowell, Associate Professor and Director of Curatorial Practice at MADA. McDowell was a curator of the 2015 Tbilisi Triennial and served as Founding Senior Editor for The Exhibitionist, a journal on curatorial practice and exhibition making. She has held curatorial appointments at the CCA Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts in San Francisco, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, where she mounted numerous group and solo exhibitions. She publishes and lectures frequently, with her criticism appearing in art-agenda, Artforum, Fillip, Mousse, and un Magazine. McDowell holds a Ph.D. in the History of Art from the University of California, Berkeley. Her research interests include exhibition histories, contemporary curating, the institutions of art, feminist and queer spaces of sociability and production, alternative archives and forms of documentation, and historical and contemporary models of experimental arts education.

In 2016, Helen Hughes joined the program as Lecturer in Art History and Curatorial Practice. Hughes has been Research Curator at the Monash University Museum of Art, co-founder and co-editor of the contemporary art journal Discipline, and co-curator of the 2016 TarraWarra Biennial. She received a PhD in Art History from the University of Melbourne.

Curatorial Practice has also welcomed Denise Ferreira da Silva as Adjunct Professor. Ferreira da Silva’s academic writings and artistic practice address the ethical questions of the global present and target the metaphysical and onto-epistemological dimensions of modern thought.

2015 Vessel/MADA International Curatorial Retreat, Bari, Italy; photo by Piero Percoco