The Modern Museum

Explore the role of the art museum in contemporary society with the world-class cultural institutions of New York City as your classroom.


This course will explore the history, influence, and role of the art museum, tracing its origins from ancient temples, to Renaissance cabinets of curiosities, to the post-modern institution as it exists in our global cultural landscape today. With a focus on the world-renowned museums of New York City, students will consider some of the most important questions facing museums today, while also looking toward the future and analyzing how museums are adapting to an increasingly virtual landscape. The course will also engage with important issues around DEI, sustainability, and access for all currently informing both the organizational and curatorial practices of museums in the 21st century.


Students will critically examine how museums create narratives through the display of artworks, including the choice of what gets included or excluded from such stories. Students will question whether an object’s meaning changes through acquisition for a museum collection, and explore how museums can respectfully display works from diverse periods and cultures or repatriate objects to their place of origin. In going behind the scenes and speaking with museum professionals, students will investigate how issues such as museum architecture, exhibition design, and curatorial practice all contribute to our understanding not only of works of art but also of ourselves and our perceptions of global cultures.


Site Visits
Visits will include a broad range of important New York art museums, including both larger, encyclopedic museums and smaller, more specialized venues.


In the past, site visits have included:

  • The Metropolitan Museum of Art
  • The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum
  • The Asia Society’s international exhibitions
  • The Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum
  • The Museum of Arts and Design


Guest Speakers
Students will hear firsthand about what goes into the research, design, and installation of a major exhibition at an important art museum, and how permanent collections are researched, arranged, and displayed.


In the past, guest speakers have included:

  • Museum curators
  • Art conservators
  • Exhibition designers
  • Museum registrars
  • Art historians


Materials Fee: $245

Health Fee: $100


Please note: This information is subject to change at any time at the discretion of Sotheby’s Institute of Art.

Term Dates

Term dates and course availability depend heavily on instructors’ schedules.

  • Term 2 July 2 to July 14 Term Closed

All courses are open to rising 10th – 12th graders and graduating seniors. Explore the full summer schedule.

View Summer Schedule

What is an Intensive?

Intensives immerse students in a single subject area for the entire two-week Institute term, with the goal of cultivating comprehensive knowledge of that discipline. This thorough approach to learning enables students to develop deeper insights about the field by closely investigating its inner workings.

Course Highlights

Summer Institute enables students to dive deep into a course of study, sharpening skills for their academic and professional careers. Each course is carefully designed to suit student interests and encourage intellectual curiosity.

  • 1

    Students will visit some of the most important art museums in New York — from larger, encyclopedic museums to smaller, more specialized venues — providing the opportunity to explore both commonalities and differences in museum practices and displays.

  • 2

    Students will hear firsthand about the various roles involved in the production of a museum exhibition, including curators, exhibition designers, educators, and other museum professionals. Art historians and museum scholars will discuss how these roles have changed over time and continue to evolve, as well as the cultural stewardship obligations associated with museums.

  • 3

    The course is ideal for students who love art and museums, or for those who might be interested in pursuing a career in museums, art history, or exhibition design. Students will learn about the various professional roles within museums, from curators to educators, conservators to registrars, preparators to docents. They will also learn about the challenges that museums face around displaying art from other cultures, as well as issues of stolen artwork and restitution.

  • 4

    Students will examine the process that leads from an idea to the opening of an art exhibition, how permanent collections are displayed and reinterpreted, and what it takes to run a major art museum.

Summer Institute Faculty

Our instructors are award-winning Sotheby's Institute faculty, recognized thought leaders and professional experts in the art world. Each faculty member structures their course around real-time conversations defining their professions and helps students master the unique forces at play in the art world.

Summer Institute Faculty

Looking for more information? Download the prospectus

Sign up for updates about our programs, courses and events.