As the New York Times reported last week, MoMA has announced that Stuart Comer will become its new chief curator of media and performance in September. Comer comes to MoMA from the Tate Modern in London, where he was the first curator of film.
In a piece at GalleristNY, Comer cites one of MoMA’s most famous curators, Frank O’Hara, as his hero and model. And, like O’Hara, he too worked his way up in the world of museums from a rather humble start:
Before joining Tate, Mr. Comer worked in the bookshop at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles. “I had a lot of New York institutions like Printed Matter in mind when I was at the shop at MOCA, as well as a lot of German bookshops that made bookstores more central to the cultural conversation,” he said. “And Frank O’Hara was always my hero, and for many years he worked in the bookshop at MoMA and then became a curator much later.”
Not to quibble, since I love the spirit of Comer’s remarks, but O’Hara didn’t exactly work in the bookstore at MoMA — it was more like the front desk. As Brad Gooch describes it in his biography of O’Hara: when a big Matisse retrospective opened in November 1951 at the museum, “O’Hara was so intent on viewing and reviewing the paintings that he applied for a job selling postcards, publications, and tickets at the Museum’s front desk.” He also didn’t work at the sales counter for many years — he resigned from the front desk job in 1953 after less than two years in the position, only to return to MoMA in 1955, this time as a special assistant in the International Program.
Nevertheless, it’s great to see a new curator at MoMA who views O’Hara as a major inspiration and to think of his influence living on at the museum that was so important to his life and career.