Notes & Quotes: Art Lies: Death of the Curator

A recent of issue of Art Lies mag creates a bit of an unsuccessful scandal: that being the death of the curator. Yes, we’ve heard all about death of the author and the death of painting, even the possible death of viable art criticism and comprehensible art theory. But this is honestly the first time I hear of the death of the curator, perhaps I am merely out of the loop.

It is not too often I run into shows that have been curated, and when they are, more often than not I am confused and go out of my way trying to figure out a common thread that links the works together and, more often than not, I do not find that thread. Amongst the younger straight out of grad school generation of artists and curators that linger around the city creating alternative underground hipster friendly shows are, more often than not, a mediocre hipster infused social gathering and not much else. I will agree that there is a slight tragedy occurring in the curatorial realm, and that is the lack of a deep reflection on the art making process. There are no art theorists and historians and critics that can follow in the footsteps of Krauss, Buchloh, Bois, and my all time fave T.J. Clark. There are no curator types that can follow in the footsteps of Barr, Spector, Schaffner, Storr. This decade has been missing a unified movement, a common language that would make it easier for curators to create that common thread. Outside of relational aesthetics and Unmonumental garbage reusal, there is no other strong mob of artists who relate while maintaining autonomy. There are enough collaboratives but they stick to themselves for the most part and create disparities. I’m not exactly sure why this is all coming out so negative and distancing. Don’t take my words too seriously, it’s all an ignorant projection.

Enough rambles, on with the notes and quotes:

The issue speaks about the role of the curator and how the borders of disciplines between artist, curator, institution are near collapsing, or merging. It mentioned how easy it is for an artist to be a curator but vice versa just doesn’t work. It marks a difference between an artist’s curator and an institution’s curator and the importance a curator has in organizing in a coherent manner a show that can be presented to an audience without self-promotion.

In a conversation between curator Joao Ribas and artist Matt Sheridan Smith, the latter says:

“I think art’s biggest potential is in its ability to produce ideas beyond the ideas contained within it, or the intended ideas, etc. A good curator can harness and direct those types of discursive potentials.”

This rings true but is a statement I think dependent upon a viewer’s ability to see beyond artist intentions, and it will always be relative to multiple ideas derived from multiple viewers.

A series of works by William Powhida fits very well in this issues which consist of paintings of handwritten papers to museums glorifying the artist himself and rejection letters from museums, and lists of things to do.


A few quotes from Revised To-Do List and The Rules:

“If you’re REALLY talented and UNORIGINAL (derivative) go directly to Mary Boone or Zach”

“Once you do sellout make the same thing until the market collapses. Think ‘reiteration’ and ‘variation’. That helps!”

“Having a trust fund helps…”

“Fire ALL assistants ASAP”

“Stop crying and sobbing at openings. No one is dead yet.”

In a conversation between curator Jens Hoffmann and artist Julieta Aranda, the curator mentions her practice as “forming temporary alliances with artists to produce grand narratives that are bigger than the sum of their parts: exhibitions with an epic dimension…” She is concerned with making sure not to appropriate context into an artist’s work that was not an intention of the artist. Both affirm the blurred line between artistic and curatorial practice and how artists have a different approach to curative “one that is less conformist and often more creative and unpredictable.” A proper curator has more traditional and historical baggage where artists who curate might contribute in a more real time manner using their technical skills as a way to gauge who they find interesting to include in a show.

Aranda mentions how curating and artmaking is becoming more personal and how it is not “following a logic of art history as we know it but is also not using work to serve a personal logic. In some way, it seems to be structured around relations of complicity, where all parts involved remain active as the statement is being articulated.”

In an essay titled The Bias of the World: Curating after Szeemann and Hopps, David Levi Strauss talks about the curator as bureaucrat and priest and how curators have become “the principal representative of some of our most persistent questions nad confusions about the social role of art.” (I think of Shamim Momin and her scandalous ways. I also think about how everyone is on crack in the art world…) He states curators “mediate between art and its publics and are often forced to take a curving and indirect course between them”. They are subversive anonymous cultural trendsetters.

The essay emphasizes the influence of renegade curators Harald Szeeman and Water Hopps, and their acknowledging the many different functions of a curator. Curators, like Hopps, should have “real skills including an encyclopedic visual memory, the ability to place artworks on the wall and in a room in a way that make them sing, the personal charm to get people to do things…and an extraordinary ability to look at a work of art, account for the experience of it and articulate…to others in a compelling and convincing way.” A curator shouldn’t make the mistake of “trying to claim an authority they haven’t earned by manipulating an artist’s work or by designing exhibitions in which individual artists’ works are seen as secondary and subservient to the curator’s gran plan or theme” Szeeman says the goal of curating is about “discovering where the unpredictable path of art will go in the immanent future”

An important trait in curating is the “respect for and understanding of artists…to take what is found in artists’ works and do whatever it takes to represent it in the strongest possible way to an interested public. Sometimes this means combining it with other work that enhanced or extended it. This was done not to show the artists anything they didn’t already know but to show the public.”

In the essay Curating Curation by J.C. Fregnan defines curating as the following: “This historical generalization of the objects of curation has had the effect of reducing its concept to a set of relationships between order and meaning and, consequently, authorizes the designation of any practice of ordering of curation.” I completely sympathize the notion of ordering and organizing in curating, the idea of creating a collage of real objects for the sake of presentation, an exposure of shared commonality, combination and selection, inscribing “meaning that neither piece could produce in isolation.”

Curating is a practice of ordering that produces meaning that also takes “part of being a producer and letting go of individual conceit…and turning towards collectivity as a strategy of resistance” This is confirmed in a conversation between Michelle White and Nato Thompson titled Curator as Producer. “The task of the curator is not necessarily about provoking but about figuring out how to facilitate and contextualize the ideas of artists and works of art that often operation within the same system that is being critiqued.”

The conclusion I’ve made from these essays is that curating is a multi-functional endeavour, the curator takes on multiple roles as a mediator between institution and artist, and takes on the responsibility of undertaking logistical matters whilst turning a show into a historically relevant event without hurting individual artistic intentions. A daunting task indeed.


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