MA in Modern and Contemporary Art: Critical and Curatorial Studies (MODA)

The MODA program is a designated MA program for students who want to pursue advanced research in all fields in modern and contemporary (20th and 21st c) art history. The program prepares students for further study at the doctoral level, or for careers in publishing, museums, galleries and all aspects of the contemporary art world.

Established in 1997, the program maintains that art historians and critics engaged with modern and contemporary art should be exposed to recent curatorial thinking and strategies, as well as the changing nature of museums and institutions. Similarly, the program provides aspiring curators with an extensive knowledge of art history and critical theory. Distinct from other programs, MODA combines an academic program in modern and contemporary art history and theory with study in the broader contemporary art world and curatorial fields.

Students in the MODA program are part of Columbia’s Department of Art History and Archaeology and the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, and take full advantage of the range of expertise of the distinguished faculty in the department and at the university at large. Each student, in consultation with the MODA Director, develops a unique, interdisciplinary curriculum based upon individual interests and goals. During the first year, students are enrolled in elective lectures and seminars of their choice, and the required two-semester Critical and Curatorial Colloquia. The Critical Colloquium involves a reading and analysis of texts by major theorists and critics, an introduction to art history’s interpretive methods and models, and an examination of different forms of critical writing. The Curatorial Colloquium introduces students to the history, theory and practice of institutions and exhibitions, the histories of curating, as well as case studies on historical exhibitions.

A vital part of the colloquia is a guest speaker series designed to allow students to engage with art historians and other scholars, artists, critics and curators. Past speakers have included writers for ArtforumGrey RoomTexte zur KunstOctoberThe GuardianThe New Yorker, and The New York Times, among many other publications; and academics from schools among which include Princeton University, New York University, The University of Southern California; artists who have been featured in major, international exhibitions, such as the Venice Biennale; as well as curators and museum professionals from the Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Met Breuer, and The Philadelphia Museum of Art, among other international and experimental venues. The colloquia also integrate on campus and off-site visits to relevant panels, institutions, and current exhibitions.

Taking advantage of both Columbia's location and the department's close ties with area institutions, the program complements scholarly study with an introduction to the larger art world of New York City. In addition, area universities are a rich source of additional academic programming; and the College Art Association annual conference is held in New York City every other year, proving an in-depth overview of the state of the field. On-campus resources such as those provided by the School of the Arts and Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation, as well as off site opportunities at major and smaller libraries and research facilities, further enrich the program's multi-faceted approach.

Students are able to pursue the program full-time or part-time, as explained in the MODA Handbook. The program culminates in the MA thesis, where students produce a written thesis based on rigorous, original research under the supervision of a faculty advisor selected by the student. Those seeking museum or curatorial careers may instead choose to conceive an exhibition project for their thesis, which can assume a variety of formats. Other opportunities include MODA Curates, a competitive program that each year names several MODA Curatorial Fellows who mount an exhibition in Columbia’s Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Art Gallery, located in the Lenfest Center for the Arts The MODA Student Run Event is another competitive program where winning proposals lead to a student-organized symposium, film screening or other events on a timely topic. (Please see side tabs for information on all these topics).

MODA welcomes applicants who wish to study 20th- and 21st-century art. For the free-standing M.A. in all fields and periods of pre-20th century art and architectural history, the department offers the MA in Art History. The University also hosts the MA-Paris Exchange Program open to full-time MA students.

Financial support for Columbia MA Programs is very limited; for further information, please see