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.