Maud Leclair: From Rue Saint-Guillaume to the Met Steps
Maud Leclair is a research assistant in the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s department of Asian Art. Thanks to Sciences Po, she says, she gained the pragmatic and professional skills that give her confidence in her ability to one day take the helm of a cultural institution.
After concentrating her studies in philosophy and art history, Leclair wanted to orient herself towards professional skills. “I thought Sciences Po would really add something to my CV,” she says. Always interested in political sciences, Leclair describes thinking that Sciences Po would be a breath of fresh air. “I could tell that it was a modern type of pedagogy and very open to other international schools,” she says. “There were courses in English and courses where we would meet professionals.”
Access to professionals working in cultural institutions was a major advantage of the Sciences Po education for Leclair. In the cultural policy program oriented towards professional skills, students learned “about managing the flow of artworks and being the financial director of the museum, so it was very pragmatic.” Leclair was exposed to other creative industries, including filmmaking and music, which she says really broadened her view of other cultural institutions and industries. Leclair describes meeting so many professional connections as “empowering because, it felt like it was actually possible to take the lead in cultural institutions or companies.” Not only did she have faith that she could be a curator, but she was empowered to know she could be someone in charge, someone controlling a budget. “I was given the tools to be an actual decision maker in a museum.”
After graduation Leclair wanted to perfect her English, as well as “to see how museums work in the English-speaking worlds, because they are working very differently than in France,” she says. In her current role at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, she serves as a research assistant for South and Southeast Asian Art in the department of Asian Art. As a research assistant, she supports the head curator of South and Southeast Asian Art in the preparation of an upcoming major international loan exhibition. She also conducts research on the Met’s collection of South and Southeast Asian Buddhist, Hindu and Jain art for acquisitions, publications, and gallery rotations. Working in the iconic museum, Leclair says, is a special experience. “It's just extraordinary to be able to work in the galleries, to walk in the galleries every day and to stay in touch with other parts of art history and discover new parts of art history.” The size of the institution is another major advantage. “It is also very enjoyable to see how such a large institution works and all the intricacies: how you make an exhibition, how do you make a major publication, who makes the decisions,” she says. Leclair finds the competitive environment at the Met both motivating and challenging. “The Met hires very qualified people very curious people. I'm always amazed by my colleagues and how much they've studied and how much experience they have,” she says. “They all want to do amazing things, and they have amazing ideas. They're good at realizing their ideas and making them come true.”
In addition to her career at the Met, Leclair is an artist herself. She works mainly with Japanese watercolor, creating large scale monotypes or applying the paint with brushes. She takes inspiration for her artistic practice from what she sees at the Met. While she is clear that she does not pretend to borrow from the history of Asian art, she finds a very loose kind of connection and a free inspiration from the works she sees in the Asian Art department. Leclair has found that her career profile is rather rare in the museum world. “I feel like there is a relatively strong distinction between being an art historian and being an artist,” she adds. “It's not a profile that you find a lot, actually, which was a bit surprising to me when I arrived at the Met”
For current Sciences Po students and young graduates considering a career in the arts, “my advice would be to go abroad,” Leclair says. “I find it so important, and it has completely changed my vision of the art world.” She stresses the importance of speaking English and gaining experience talking to people with “different views on what art is, how art should be sold, and how art should be displayed.”