Wednesday, April 23, 2008

At this point, I'm pretty sure this is a non-controversy--and has quickly become a bit of a dead horse.

But in opening a forum to further discuss the issue, J.T. did make an interesting observation about curators for local shows who don't seem to do much curating.

I've seen this mostly at DCAC, where getting a curator seems to have less to do with putting a show together than with simply partnering an emerging artist with someone knowledgeable about the regional art world and fostering some kind of exchange. This seems like a smart, healthy, thoroughly desirable program to me.

But, again: Is it really curating if the artist already knows what handful of pre-existing pieces--say, a group of new paintings--will be in the show, and will install the show her or himself? If it's a group show, or a retrospective, or a project on which the curator's been consulting for awhile, then I get it...but otherwise, isn't the curator really just serving as an essayist? An important task, to be sure, but not curating per se.

But then in the comments on his post, J.T. turns around and suggests (as he has before) that maybe a curator doesn't need to write anything about the work s/he's presenting. Dave Hickey might agree, but I don't know that anyone else would.

A person who helps select artworks to go in a space and figures out how they should be installed--without offering analysis or argument to explain or contextualize the work--is called an exhibition designer, not a curator. Both are important jobs, and I certainly do as much or more of the former as I do of the latter in my current position. But I think there's definitely a difference.


Blogger Armsmasher said...

There has to be a tipping point, doesn't there? As a curator of a show who didn't do much curating, I'll say that a show changes a lot from concept to execution. That second-floor hang space I thought would be crucial, but then things happen and by the time the show's hanging I had a lot less to do with it than I might have conceived. So, yeah, exhibition designer/essay writer: I would expect that a lot of single artist–show curators fit this bill.

I happen to think that the setup you describe at DCAC is a feature, not a bug, and it's only for lack of a better word that the word "curator" comes into play. I agree that it's lowercase-c curating and that it's healthy. I do wish they'd take down the printed letters of local organizations who turned down their requests for financial support.


11:34 AM  
Blogger jhcudlin said...

I didn't mean to imply that DCAC's practice is any kind of a bug--it's definitely an asset. But I do think the "c" word can be slippery.

When Rex worked on our show there, he insisted on being credited as our "exhibition advisor." Which may have actually understated his importance...but it still seemed like a better title for that role.

12:02 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

I'm with you Jeffry. The number of emails I've gotten about "curating" is truly astonishing. I, like most people, use the term out of convenience and understanding. While "exhibition designer" is likely an accurate title for what I do in my own practice, it would probably be met with "huh?" by most people. Additionally, it sounds like it is limited to just the installation of the show and I personally do much more than that (everything but the essay).

The reason I don't write curatorial statements for the shows I curate is because I think/hope it's unnecessary. If I am making a case for anything then I construct the show (show title, artists, artwork, installation) in such a way that my "statement" is clear. If it's not, then I have failed.

Some shows certainly require essays to make much sense of them. Some shows will show red paintings and the curatorial statement will make a case for them actually being blue. Or something.

My goal is to mount great shows. And I stress "show." I'd rather the viewer spend time with the work than read my writing. I look to critics, essayists, academics, historians, other artists, etc to provide their interpretation of the show.

Ultimately I've read so many bad curatorial statements for bad shows that it almost feels like if you can make a good show and skip the statement, then you're ahead of the game. What I find most interesting is how traditional the art world is in this respect. For a such creative field, it seems like people are awfully stuck in their ways. :)

12:21 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...


I followed your Dave Hickey link and found the following quote as part of one of his curatorial statements:

"I am just not that sort of curator. My curatorial virtues are concrete and hands-on: I know how to look and I remember what I see. I have seen a lot of art and my enthusiasms are catholic. In the past I have designed spaces and installed them with dissimilar works of art so that each work may be seen to its best advantage. More specifically, I believe that one's aim, when working as a curator in a public space, is to create art lovers, not to impress one's fellow professionals with expertise. As a consequence, I aspire to mount an exhibition that is variously interesting rather than generally relevant--an exhibition whose visibility will empower the general public while challenging the professional art world as well."

Of course, he could have written nothing and made the same statement, but what would they have put in the catalog?

I'd submit that there's nothing wrong with this approach just the same as there's nothing wrong with the more traditional approach (that may yield garbage like the WhiBi curatorial statements this year).

Thanks for the link.

12:34 PM  
Blogger jhcudlin said...

I think Hickey views the curator's role the way he does because he's a critic--and it suits him to view curators and critics as wearing very different hats. As a curator, Hickey feels he only needs to offer an interesting opportunity for someone else to experience, analyze, and explain. That's convenient for Hickey, but I don't necessarily agree with it. Still, the art world would be a very different place without his voice in the mix, I think.

I'm assuming you've read Air Guitar...?

12:57 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Then I agree with Hickey. I do value writing about art (4 years of Thinking About Art attest to that), but I guess I just don't feel it necessary for me to write a curatorial statement (same goes for an artist statement).

I own Air Guitar but I haven't read it yet. Are you suggesting it should be bumped up the queue?

1:31 PM  
Blogger Lenny said...

Dang it all!

This all has taken a whole new road exit about "curating."


The key point is that my good friend Kriston made a fuss about DCist and I, and then policed the issue with the regulation that "you really can't don the critic's cap when you're a producer in the community."

But now he is a "producer in the community" while wearing the "critic's cap."

That's the point!

All that is needed to close this issue is for KC to say, "you know what? I was wrong... you CAN wear the critic's cap and still be an ethical member AND producer of the community" which I think is what he is doing with Project 4...

You can't have it both ways: tell someone (me in this case) that you shouldn't do something and then you go ahead and do pretty much the same thing but call it "gray area" in your case.

I try extra hard to be as ethical as possible in all my dealings, not just art or blogging or writing or curating or criticism. With a fuck-up here and there, I'm sure that I do pretty good most times.

For DCist I never authored an article or authored a post for DCist that mentioned my gallery at the time -- or anyone else's for that matter.

What I did do was to contribute info via email - usually to Cyndi Spain - that she then picked or added to her own info about gallery openings. No mentions of Fraser were ever submitted by me.

But when Kriston raised the issue of ethics mixed into his twichyness, I immediately quit doing contributions to DCist, on the assumption that if he felt that there was an ethical issue, even though there were none, there might be a slight chance that this appearance may be the same to others.

The fact that he curated a show for a gallery under his critical coverage falls under that same Cappstonian law of "you really can't don the critic's cap when you're a producer in the community."

I disagree with it 100%, but since he was the creator of that rule, you'd think that he'd abide by it.

I propose that JT, KC, Jeffry and I get together for some beers and argue this out over alcohol...

Otherwise I'm sure that KC will never review the two shows that I've curated for DC galleries for later this year :-)

5:13 PM  
Blogger jhcudlin said...

Oh, I understood your argument. I was just bored with it. ;)

5:15 PM  
Blogger Lenny said...

I bored you!!! That's it!

You get low carb beer!

Hopefully no one will ever challenge your ethics unjustifiably... then you might see how quickly one man's boredom transforms into instant attention!

Keep it up and it may even go down to non alcoholic beer...

8:49 PM  
Blogger jhcudlin said...

I look forward to grabbing that O'Doul's with you soon.

6:05 AM  
Blogger Lenny said...

"To be right," the painter Franz Kline once said, "is the most terrific personal state that no one is interested in."

11:25 AM  

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