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Independent study program

The Independent Study Program (ISP) consists of three interrelated parts: Studio Program, Curatorial Program, and Critical Studies Program. The ISP provides a setting within which students pursuing art practice, curatorial work, art historical scholarship, and critical writing engage in ongoing discussions and debates that examine the historical, social, and intellectual conditions of artistic production. The program encourages the theoretical and critical study of the practices, institutions, and discourses that constitute the field of culture.

Each year fifteen students are selected to participate in the Studio Program, four in the Curatorial Program, and six in the Critical Studies Program. Curatorial and critical studies students are designated as Helena Rubinstein Fellows in recognition of the substantial support provided to the program by the Helena Rubinstein Foundation. The program begins in early September and concludes at the end of the following May. Many of the participants are enrolled at universities and art schools and receive academic credit for their participation, while others have recently completed their formal studies.

Studio Program

The participants in the Studio Program are engaged in a variety of art practices with an emphasis on installation work, film and video, photography, performance, and various forms of interdisciplinary practice. The program provides studio space and facilities in our loft in downtown Manhattan. The Studio Program exhibition is held in May.

2013 Studio Program poster
2012 Exhibition Catalogue

Curatorial Program

Curatorial students collaborate to produce an exhibition. Working closely with the program’s faculty and curators at the Whitney, the students develop proposals for the exhibition. Once a proposal has been approved by the Museum’s curators, the students proceed to select artworks, arrange loans, and design and oversee the installation of the exhibition. The students write essays for and participate in the production of a catalogue accompanying their exhibition.


Yve Laris Cohen, Waltz; Cross Hesitation, 2012 (performance view, Thomas Erben Gallery, New York, May 18, 2012). White wall, white floor, white wall, white floor, black wall, black floor, white transsexual. Courtesy of the artist and Thomas Erben Gallery. Photograph by Andreas Vesterlund

Maintenance is crucial for the continuation of our physical infrastructure, our society, and our lives. The often repetitive and mundane work of maintenance sustains people, objects, and institutions, and supports our constant struggle against entropy and decay. Ubiquitous but unseen and undervalued, maintenance comprises the essential systems of support that clear the ground for all other forms of work. Investigating the diversity of maintenance tasks, Maintenance Required examines the large-scale systems that construct our daily lives.

Curated by Nina Horisaki-Christens, Andrea Neustein, Victoria Rogers, and Jason Waite, Helena Rubinstein Curatorial Fellows of the Independent Study Program, 2012–13

Alfredo Jaar, The Marx Lounge, 2010. Liverpool Biennial, UK. Courtesy the artist and Galerie Lelong, New York.

Creative destruction refers to capitalism’s inherent tendency to create new wealth by destroying the previous economic order. Initially described by Marx and Engels in The Communist Manifesto, this concept was popularized in the United States after World War II when economist Joseph Schumpeter adapted it as a model of economic innovation but still warned of its self-destructive nature. Creative Destruction reclaims the phrase in order to emphasize how preexisting systems of representation can be reconfigured for different political purposes.

Curated by denisse andrade, Liz Park, Tim Saltarelli, and Kristina Scepanski, Helena Rubinstein Curatorial Fellows of the Whitney Museum of American Art Independent Study Program, 2011–2012.

Emily Roysdon. piers untitled (below the surface), 2009. Courtesy of the artist. For Undercurrents, Roysdon interacts with the Christopher Street Piers—a historical site of gay culture and political action—through a series of performances and documentation.

Ethical cohabitation—how to live together and how to be in the shared environment—is the problem that brings together the sociopolitical, cultural, and ecological within this exhibition. While ostensibly aiming to achieve harmonious balance, such relations are nevertheless inherently antagonistic and always unstable. In this context, how does one choose to act?

Curated by Anik Fournier, Michelle Lim, Amanda Parmer and Robert Wuilfe, Whitney Independent Study Program Curatorial Fellows, 2009–2010

Kamal Aljafari, Port of Memory, 2009. Video still. Courtesy the artist

The term foreclosure today is associated with the collapse of the subprime mortgage market. Caught in a cycle of crisis provoked by this collapse, the instinctive reaction is to search for solutions within the very institutional logic that produced the problem. Foreclosed: Between Crisis and Possibility examines these responses by beginning with a reexamination of the term itself and locating this investigation within a global context. 

Curated by Jennifer Burris, Sofía Olascoaga, Sadia Shirazi, and Gaia Tedone, Helena Rubinstein Curatorial Fellows of the Whitney Independent Study Program, 2010–2011

Critical Studies Program

Critical Studies participants engage in individual scholarly research and critical writing projects through tutorials with a professional art historian, critic, or cultural theorist. The program’s faculty arranges tutorials and provides additional advice and guidance. A symposium is held in May at the Whitney, at which the Critical Studies students present papers.

Recent seminar leaders and tutors

Vito Acconci 
Alex Alberro 
Emily Apter 
Carol Armstrong 
Homi Bhabha 
Gregg Bordowitz 
Benjamin Buchloh
Matthew Buckingham
Judith Butler 

Jonathan Crary 
Thomas Crow 
Rosalyn Deutsche
Mark Dion
Okwui Enwezor
Harun Farocki
Hal Foster
Andrea Fraser
Coco Fusco 

Jennifer González 
Isabelle Graw
Renée Green 
Hans Haacke 
Stuart Hall 
David Harvey
Sharon Hayes
Thomas Hirschhorn
Jenny Holzer

Chrissie Iles 
Alfredo Jaar 
Gareth James
Isaac Julien 
Robin Kelley 
Mary Kelly 
Silvia Kolbowski 
Miwon Kwon 
Louise Lawler 

Tom McDonough
Kobena Mercer 
Chantal Mouffe 
Laura Mulvey 
Mark Nash 
Molly Nesbit 
Christiane Paul 
Adrian Piper 
Yvonne Rainer 

Martha Rosler 
Andrew Ross 
Allan Sekula 
Gayatri Spivak 
Anthony Vidler 
Fred Wilson 
Peter Wollen


All Applications Must Include:

  • A clear indication of which program (studio, critical, or curatorial) you are applying for
  • A résumé or C.V. including name, address, and telephone number (school and/or permanent)
  • School you are currently attending or have attended, degree program, and expected date of graduation (may be included in your C.V.)
  • Two letters of recommendation (may be sent under separate cover)
  • A statement discussing your work, educational experience, and intellectual interests (no more than 2 pages)
  • An application fee of $15 (make check or a Western Union money order payable to Whitney Museum of American Art)

Additional Application Information

Support for The Independent Study Program is provided by Margaret Morgan and Wesley Phoa, The Capital Group Charitable Foundation, the Whitney Contemporaries through their annual Art Party benefit, the Easton Foundation, the National Committee of the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Edward and Sally Van Lier Foundation, and an anonymous donor.

Endowment support is provided by Joanne Leonhardt Cassullo, the Dorothea L. Leonhardt Fund of the Communities Foundation of Texas, the Dorothea L. Leonhardt Foundation, the Helena Rubinstein Foundation, and George S. Harris.

The Independent Study Program is an equal opportunity education program. The Program does not discriminate because of age, sex, religion, race, color, national origin, disability, marital status, veteran status, sexual orientation, or any other factor prohibited by law.