Modern Art: Critical and Curatorial Studies

Program Category: MA Programs

Chair: Michael Cole

Website: Department of Art History and Archaeology

Program Director: Janet Kraynak

Degree Programs: Full-Time/Part-Time: Free-Standing MA

This program is founded on the conviction that critics engaged with modern and contemporary art need to understand curatorial strategies and that curators must be able to write with full knowledge of critical theory and art history.

Taking advantage both of Columbia's location in one of the world's major centers for the production and display of modern and contemporary art and of the department's close ties with the Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, and other institutions, the program immerses students in the art world of New York City. On campus resources, such as those provided by the School of the Arts and Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation, further enrich the program's multi-faceted and interdisciplinary approach. Students learn from and are exposed to a wide-range of contemporary cultural practitioners, including art historians, artists, architects, critics, curators, theorists, designers, and publishers, just as they build community across institutions and disciplines.

At the core of the program are the MA Critical and Curatorial Colloquia. The Critical Colloquium is taken in the first term of study and combines reading and analysis of texts by major theorists and critics. Each week discussions focus on key terms and analytical lenses in the history of art and art criticism. The Curatorial Colloquium is taken in the second semester of study and introduces students to the history, theory, and practice of object collection and display, as well as to the history of exhibitions such as Documenta and the various biennials. Each colloquium both draws on the expertise of Columbia's distinguished faculty and includes guest presentations on particular issues. Writers for ArtforumGrey RoomParkettTexte zur Kunst, and October, as well as curators and museum professionals from MoMA and the Whitney, among other international and experimental venues, are among the colloquia's regular participants.

The MA in Modern Art welcomes applicants who wish to study twentieth- and twenty-first-century art. For the free-standing MA in other fields or periods of art and architectural history, please see the MA in Art History. Columbia University also hosts the MA-Paris Exchange Program open to full-time MA students. For details about this program and eligibility criteria, please see Resources for MA students.

The program culminates in the preparation of an independent thesis. Students produce a written thesis based on rigorous, original research under the supervision of a faculty advisor. Students may also choose to conceptualize a thesis exhibition project, which can assume a variety of formats.

Established in 1997, the MA program is committed to enhancing students' ability to participate in professional activities and to formulate a critical position in relation to contemporary art and culture.


The resources of the Department of Art History and Archaeology extend beyond the classroom: The Avery Memorial Architecture and Fine Arts Library, the Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Art Gallery, the Buell Center for the Study of American Architecture, and the many museums and art galleries of New York offer an incomparable array of world art on permanent and temporary exhibition. The Visual Media Center for Art History provides learning opportunities for graduate students in the area of new imaging and information technologies. More information about the Department of Art History and Archaeology is available on the department's website.

Special Admissions Requirements: 

Generally a minimum of four undergraduate courses in art history or studies in archaeology or anthropology related to art history is required. Reading knowledge of one or more foreign languages is strongly recommended prior to admission. All applicants should submit a sample of critical or scholarly writing. Interviews are not offered as part of the application process. Applicants are advised to visit the department's website or to contact the department for information about faculty and for general information about the graduate program.

In addition to the requirements listed below, all students must submit one transcript showing courses and grades per school attended, a statement of academic purpose, a writing sample (a course paper, term paper, etc.),and three letters of evaluation from academic sources.

All international students whose native language is not English or whose undergraduate degree is from an institution in a country whose official language is not English must submit scores of the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) or IELTS.

For more information, refer to our Admissions Information and Frequently Asked Questions pages.


Deadline for Fall Admission: Thursday, December 15, 2016
Resume Requirement: Yes
Writing Sample: Yes (Critical or Scholarly Writing)
Writing Sample Number of Pages: 10-15
GRE General: Yes
Degree Programs: Full Time/Part Time
Free-Standing: Yes