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Columbia University Course/Program Name
Application closes on
National :15 Dec
International :15 Dec

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

 Course Level
Masters / PG
Full Time

2 Years
 Start month

 Tuition fee

27180 USD
27180 USD

Application fee

International 105 USD
National 105 USD
Department of Art History and Archaeology
Scores accepted
IELTS (min)7.5
TOEFL-IBT (min)100
TOEFL-PBT (min)600
GRE (avg)315

World University Ranking

About this course

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 Artforum, Grey Room, Texte zur Kunst, October, The 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.

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Eligibility Criteria

For admission to all graduate programs, the prerequisite is a minimum of 4 courses in art history or studies closely related (e.g., archaeology, architectural history, art-historical anthropology, visual studies, film studies, media studies, etc.). As MODA is a program devoted to advanced study in modern and contemporary art, students should have previous courses in those fields, and demonstrate a basic grasp of the history of modernism. An undergraduate major in art history is not a requirement, but candidates should contextualize their course of study thus far and their ability to pursue graduate level work in art history. It is also advised that students have prior knowledge of at least one foreign language at the time of applying.

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Course Modules

All students in the program are required to accumulate 2 Residence Units and take a total of eight graduate courses plus two sections of the MA Thesis course.

All students must take for a letter grade the mandatory Critical Colloquium and Curatorial Colloquium in the first year.
Also required are six courses at either the 8000, 6000, or 4000 level. Of these courses, no more than two should be taken for R credit. Students who wish to take 3000-level courses must get instructor approval to take them for 4000-level credit (which commonly involves additional course assignments).
All students must take two sections of the MA Thesis course during their final year in the program.
With the consent of their advisors, students may take courses in other departments in the history, culture, literature and philosophy of their area of interest.
To ensure permission to continue in the program, students are warned against the accumulation of Incompletes in their MA coursework.
Full-time students:

Full-time students: Full-time students must take all eight required graduate courses in their first year and two sections of the MA Thesis course in their second year of study in the program.

Part-time students:

Part-time students must take at least four of the required graduate courses during their first year, and at least two required courses in any subsequent year in the program. Two sections of the MA Thesis course must be taken during the final year in the program, but no later than the fourth year.

Language Requirement
Knowledge of one foreign language relevant to their program of study must be demonstrated in order to complete the MA. For specific information on fulfilling the language requirement, see the section entitled Fulfilling Language Requirements in the student handbook.

Students whose concentrations are within modern and contemporary art outside the West are strongly encouraged to take one course in the pre-Modern arts of their specific region of study. The aim is to complement one’s study of "global" modern and contemporary art with the pre-modern arts of Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and the Americas.

Problems in Curatorial Practice and Problems in Art Criticism
In order to pursue academic credit for an internship, students should speak with their advisor about the requirements for Problems in Curatorial Practice and Problems in Art Criticism. These independent study courses are conceived as the academic complements to curatorial and critical work and thus integrate intellectual reflection with a student's practical experience outside the classroom. These courses may be pursued after the first semester of study. Students may only register for one that will count toward the degree's completion.

Completion of MA Requirements
Full-time students must have completed all required coursework for the MA degree by the end of their first year and be given a favorable first?year evaluation to continue to the MA thesis stage. The MA thesis (and two sections of the MA Thesis course) must be completed within the second and final year in the program.

Part-time students must have completed all required coursework for the MA degree by the end of their third year and be given a favorable first, second-, or third-year evaluation to continue to the MA thesis stage. The MA thesis (and two sections of the MA Thesis course) must be completed no later than the fourth year in the program.

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How to Apply

Application Information
A complete application includes the following information:

  • Official transcripts of all previous post-secondary education
  • A statement of academic purpose (2 to 3 pages double-space)
  • CV
  • 3 letters of recommendation
  • GRE scores
  • TOEFL or IELTS scores (for international students)
  • Writing sample (10-15 pages) — this should be an example of your best scholarly writing and should be a complete text
  • Application Fee

NOTE: If you have problems with the online application portal please contact GSAS Admission for assistance.

Applicants should upload a transcript or record (e.g. web-based transcripts, mark sheets, Relevé de Notes) of any academic work from each university-level institution you have attended for use in review of your application. Uploading a scanned copy of your transcript or academic record will expedite processing and review of your application.

However, applicants should not send official paper transcripts. If you receive an offer of admission, you will be required to send official paper documents for verification before the offer is considered official. Do not send official transcripts before being notified by GSAS.

Study abroad undertaken as part of your undergraduate work does not require uploading of a separate transcript, provided that both courses and grades are recorded on the main transcript.

Transcripts that are in a language other than English must be translated into English. The translation must be certified to be an accurate translation of the original and be notarized or otherwise authenticated. Both non-English and translated transcripts should be uploaded.

Statement of Academic Purpose
The statement of academic purpose should be a succinct statement of approximately 2-3 pages (double spaced) describing your past academic work and preparation related to your intended field of study, your plans for graduate study at Columbia, and your subsequent career objectives. If you intend to transfer from a graduate program at another university, please explain why you wish to do so. If you are not currently attending an academic program, please describe your activities since you were last enrolled. If there has been a break in your educational experience, please include a brief explanation.

The CV (2 pages maximum) should include education and academic accomplishments, awards and fellowships, internships and professional/teaching experience, and other academic-related activities (conferences, publications, etc.).

Three Letters of Recommendation
Letters of recommendation should ideally be from professors and scholars who can speak to the applicant's abilities and suitability for graduate study at Columbia. Typically, letters come from art and architectural historians or archaeologists, professors who have taught or supervised the applicant in college or at the Masters level, but a letter from an academic in another discipline, preferably the humanities, would be acceptable. Letters from museum professionals are acceptable. The referee ought to know the applicant well, know his or her work, and know what his or her goals are. The letters of reference are an important component of the application.

As a note applicants should request letters of recommendation as early as possible. We urge you to verify that all of your letters have been submitted by the time you submit your application to avoid any delay in the review of your file. Admissions will notify you via email when a recommendation has been submitted for your file. You may submit your application even if all of your letters have not yet been received, but your file will not be considered fully complete until the letters have arrived. After submitting the application, you may monitor receipt of recommendations by viewing your Applicant Status page. You may not submit your application until you have designated the required number of recommenders.

For the GRE, prospective students should aim to score at least a 167 on the verbal, 160 on the quantitative reasoning and a 5.5 on the written essay. Applicants are advised to take their GRE test (and TOEFL or IELTS if required) in sufficient time to ensure that the scores arrive by application deadline. (These are scores to aim for not hard requirements. Applicant should aim to get as close as possible or over recommended scores. If scores are slightly lower than those recommended it does not automatically disqualify an applicant’s application.)

Applicants whose native language is not English and who have received an undergraduate degree from an institution in a country where the official language is not English or who have received an undergraduate degree from a non-English speaking country and are now studying at the graduate level in the U.S. or another English-speaking country must take the TOEFL or IELTS and need to score at least a 100 on the TOEFL internet-based exam or 7.5 on the IELTS. For more information, please read the English Proficiency Requirements under Information for International Students on the GSAS Admissions webpage.

Note: Applicants who have studied for at least two years at a U.S. institution or at an institution in a country where the official language is English and earned the undergraduate (or bachelor’s) degree at that institution are not required to complete the English proficiency requirement.

International applicants should also visit the International Students and Scholars Office (ISSO) website for details regarding studying at the University, including visa and registration requirements.

The GRE and TOEFL code for the Graduate school is 2162. There is no department code.

Writing Sample
The writing sample is a very important component of the application. It should be an example of your best scholarly writing. Typically, the writing sample will be an excerpt from an undergraduate senior thesis, a seminar paper, or an article or other published work; it should be a critical or scholarly work in art history or a closely related field that demonstrates the candidate's skills in research and interpretation. The writing sample should be between 10-15 pages (essay and footnotes ONLY) and read as a complete essay.

Note: Applicants can submit up to 10 additional pages to include a bibliography and/or images ONLY.


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