‘curator’: cura or care

Logan Taylor

David Balzer’s text, Curationism, is one that is key to understanding the realities of the act of curation and it’s importance in contemporary times. Balzer, in his text has brought up this idea that those who curate are under appreciated, however, he brings it up in this fashion that makes you frustrated, but also critique the realities of how those who are in this industry can be treated and understood. To curate has now become this blanket statement to cover all of those who program, advertise or run an event, it is no longer this individual act, even though many like to identify as such. This word has become just that, a word which has no actual meaning, and those who study curatorial practices, do the art history research, or even find the works are categorized into this overlaying statement tied in with celebrities, music festivals and even zookeepers. Balzer’s statement of curation being a buzzword is completely true and this is wrong. This should be critiqued due to the fact that those who attend curatorial schools, put in the work and it really should not be this overlay statement.

Language is huge and plays an enormous factor in our society, yet we overuse words so often that we become subjected to these blanket statements. Curation is a job; it is a career, and something that many make a living off of, still we are in a time where we are comparing it to the appearances of celebrities at music festivals? This idea that we are the same is true on surface level when it comes to social media and possibly something like fashion, but I would argue that we are entering a period where this is not true in the art-world, but rather in the art-world, we are entering a time of experimental acts and true differentiation. If we take the example of Artspace, the center focuses on contemporary artists, with the idea of creating new works to be part of an exhibition for six weeks. This is really important for the distinguishing between artist and curators and the fact that their jobs are not the typical, working for an artist-run center is not simply finding art and putting it on the walls but rather curating and showcasing works that are experimental, encouraging the use of different mediums and even the importance of different means of presentation and most importantly conversation.

The Oxford English Dictionary definition of curation is, to curate as an extension of museum and gallery practice, an act of selecting, organizing, and presenting items. There is a process to curatorial practice, curators take the time to do studio visits, to associate themselves with the artist and how they relate to the greater world, and essentially attempt to create spaces that are welcoming but also cause the audience to think. There is an argument that Balzer states, that artists, curators and collector, are all part of a regime, I question this because it reinforces this idea of the commodification of art and this almost “write off” of the art-world. What I mean by this is, yes these three individuals work together, but it is also important to separate each of the roles, relaying back to the artist and curator having separate jobs, but also that the collector is merely that- one who should not identify as a curator as they are one who is putting together an exhibition but purchasing for aesthetic purposes. What I also question with this statement is whether it is actually this fine tuned running machine or rather the curator plays this almost translator role, playing with personalities, but reinforcing this importance of art and the actual physical work that goes into the final pieces. The curator plays this role of ensuring this reality and the realities that artist’s face, and does not present him or herself as this all-encompassing force that is often associated with celebrities.

Curators play important roles in the art-world and act as managers. The curator must understand the aesthetic and commercial, combining the two to turn something that is new and thus vulnerable into something that is nothing short of invincible. Curators are meant to be these in-between players that are meant to support the artist in whatever is needed, they are meant to provide assistance and feedback as I addressed in my last blog, but they are also imperative to introducing the artist’s work into the greater realm of the art world. The curator acts as this professional figure that is meant to promote the works in terms of being seen in a gallery setting, but also ensure that the messages that co-exist are actually becoming apparent. This is what really separates curators from celebrities and zookeepers, because both of those fields are somewhat temporary. With the example of celebrities, their jobs are surrounded by their names, they show up to a music festival or contribute to an event and they are labeled ‘curators’ because of their name, which is not the same as an art curator. This is an example of a blanket statement because we are giving membership to this celebrity status simply because it sounds nice, rather then just recognizing the fact that they do stand on a different pedestal because of their place in their industry. In addition, comparing a zookeeper to a curator is also questionable because there really isn’t a sense of flexibility in the job, but also the fact that there isn’t the diversity paired with it like there is with the art-world. A zookeeper simply plans an ‘opening’ of a new animal; which was likely to have been seen previously, and also simply demonstrates captivity. The act of a curator is much different then these to examples since there are many processes that lead up to an opening, and not to mention the fact that every exhibition especially in modern times is temporary. The focus is on the art, not on the curator.

There has been a shift of the curator, especially the fact that the word curator is no longer just an art-world figure. Within the art world, a select number of curators dominate their institutions but also transcend them, playing roles in media and culture. Outside the art world, curation is powerful but also diffuse. We ‘curate’ in relation to ourselves, using the term to refer to any number or things we do and consume on a daily basis. Overall, there is a huge complication with stating anything is art or that anyone can curate. It is naïve to think that this shift did not occur and I recognize that many like to identify as performing acts of curation but this shift needs to revert. Curationism, has forgotten the very root of ‘curator’: cura or care and, by extension, genuine curiosity. As members of the art-world we need to take back this name and the language because there is a huge difference between status, and actual acts. Is it fair it a fair argument to say that everyone can be a curator? I think not, curators tie up lose ends, play for issues, present controversial pieces, and do more then simply show up. Balzer’s text is important to understanding the shifts that take place in the world of curation and is one that should be discussed and critiques at great length. In sum, taking back the word curation is important and this differentiation between all the components and examples addressed is important to understanding their importance in art-world and the vital role they play.

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