Modern Art: Critical and Curatorial Studies

Program Category: MA Programs
Chair: Zainab Bahrani
Director of Graduate Studies: Ioannis Mylonopoulos
Acting Program Director: Leah Werier
Degree Programs: Full-Time/Part-Time: Free-Standing MA
Website: Department of Art History and Archaeology

Established in 1997, the MODA program is founded on the conviction that art historians and critics engaged with modern and contemporary art need to understand curatorial strategies that reflect the interrelationship between new mediums and modes of artistic practice, as well as changing institutional and exhibition practices and forms. Similarly, curators need to embark upon the research, organization, and mounting of exhibitions with an extensive knowledge of critical theory and art history. MODA consequently offers a rigorous, scholarly, and expansive program of study, combining an intellectual foundation in modern and contemporary art and theory with exposure to the broader professional art world.

Students take advantage of the full range of expertise of the distinguished faculty in Columbia’s Department of Art History and Archaeology and in the university at large, while benefitting from specific programs crafted uniquely for MODA. The course of study enables each student to develop a unique, interdisciplinary curriculum based upon individual interests and goals. At the core of the program are the first year MA Critical and Curatorial Colloquia. The Critical Colloquium is taken in the first term of study. It involves a reading and analysis of texts by major theorists and critics, an introduction to art history’s different interpretive methods and models, and an examination of different models of critical writing.  The Curatorial Colloquium is taken in the second semester of study. It introduces students to the history, theory and practice of exhibitions, the histories of curating, and recent models of the “curatorial,” as well as case studies on historical exhibitions.

Each colloquium is also designed to engage students with a range of professionals in the critical, scholarly, and curatorial field through a guest speaker series. Past speakers have included writers for ArtforumGrey RoomTexte zur KunstOctoberThe Guardian, and The New York Times, 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 Curatorial Colloquium also includes visits to  relevant panels, institutions, and current exhibitions.

Taking advantage of both Columbia's location and the department's close ties with area museums, galleries, and other cultural institutions (including the Metropolitan Museum, the Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, and The Studio Museum in Harlem, among others), the program complements scholarly study with an immersion 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.

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 conceive a thesis exhibition project, which can assume a variety of formats. Other opportunities include MODA Curates, a competitive program that allows select students to mount an exhibition in Columbia’s Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Art Gallery, and the MODA Student Run Event, another competitive program where winning proposals lead to a symposium, film series or other event on a timely topic.

The MA in Modern and Contemporary Art welcomes applicants who wish to study 20th- and 21st-century art. For the free-standing MA in other fields or periods of art and architectural history (i.e., pre-1900), please apply to the MA in Art History program. 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 here.


The resources of the Department of Art History and Archaeology extend beyond the classroom: The Avery Architectural 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 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 [email protected] 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.), a personal statement, 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.

*GSAS will accept up to four recommendations, regardless of the number required by your program of interest. However, to be eligible for admission at GSAS, at least TWO letters must be submitted by academic recommenders.