Curator as Artist?

Logan Taylor


Building off of last weeks’ blog, curating contemporary art is not an easy feat, as I mentioned before it is all about communication; communication between the artist and curator, and communication of the artist’s vision to execute the final product. As part of my internship I read Terry Smith’s book, Thinking Contemporary Curating and was intrigued by his ideas behind curation. All I have really known from this aspect thus far is basically shadowing Jon at Artspace. However, this text gave me insight to the importance that the curator plays in an exhibition, not just displaying the work but essentially knowing all they can on the works, it is also important for the curator to familiarize themselves with how the works comment on the past, or future and play into a larger society.

A curator’s job starts off with finding the artist and the works, as Smith states, “It is clear that curating is much more than making exhibitions: it involves commissioning new work and working beyond the walls of an institution, as well as what are traditionally called programming and education". This is important to note because this is more or less the foundation of a gallery, without the work of artists curation cannot happen, but art still exists outside of the gallery, it just becomes a question of who is looking at the works. This is what is so critical to curation - by having a gallery and an individual or group display the works invites the greater world to make commentary and develop opinions. What is interesting about Smith’s text is this shift he addresses that art does not only confine to individual places, in fact he states, “… that we shift our gaze to the huge variety of more specialized collections…” This is evident in our own city of Peterborough through the mass collections that happen outside of the typical gallery setting, for instance the Hunter Street Bridge project that has happened in that past, this is a great example as it is more or less curated by an individual or better a team, an artist and a curator but it is completely public. The curator was key to this project as means of promotion and helping the artist see their full potential and vision, but the artist is also key as they completed the work. I would of course consider this a specialized collection as it is completed in the exterior, it showcases what Peterborough has to offer in the art world, while making something permanent and even better, beautiful.

There is another argument in which the structure is replacing the curator, which Smith addresses in his text, but I think this is questionable. Yes, the physical structure plays a key role in exhibitions but the structure does not make the aesthetic calls. What I mean by this is of course the building plays a huge role, whether there are present windows, tall ceilings to hold larger pieces, and how much useable wall space but none of this matters if the structure is completely done with accommodating the building. In addition, buildings do not take in the importance of history or even current events. A curator can place pieces in a fashion that looks appealing but also makes the audience think. For example, Olivia’s current exhibition is placed at eye level, and follows the system of the Trent Severn way according to parks Canada. This could have been reimagined and placed in importance of the waterway to its surrounding inhabitants, Curve Lake is fed by the Trent Severn Way, and the creation of the bridges dramatically altered how these waterways could be used to benefit residents. This exhibition is so critical because it allows for the gallery to act similar to that of a studio, but not a studio of physical use but rather one of larger thought. The presentation of Olivia’s work paired with the artist statement, allows the audience to develop greater ideas about what it all means. For myself I thought about the importance of water and how I take it for granted all the time and just assume it will always be accessible, however, it also allows the audience to think in greater contexts, like other places, times, pasts or futures. Thoughts on commodification of the environment, thoughts on environmentalism and how to preserve, thoughts on how settlers overtook literally everything to benefit no one but himself or herself, and thought much deeper then surface level. This is what is so key to curation that Smith addresses from the beginning, “…curation allows for the processes of searching self-reflection and consideration of previous and other imaginable art…”

Although Smith also addresses this idea of “infrastructural” as means of replacing the curatorial as an issue that should be paid attention to. Essentially meaning that it is important to understand this balance that the curator uphold, the curator as artist and the artist as curator. This is an interesting concept as both are key to the success of a gallery, however, I also believe there needs to be two distinct rolesThis is an interesting note as he claims that this boundary between curator and artist needs attention, that this separation between what an artist calls theirs, what a curator lays claim to and this tension between the curator as an artist. What I think is important to note hat both of these jobs are very different and should have separation in not only the tasks they before but the final result as well. Curators have a purpose and that is to support the artist and assist them in accomplishing their vision, as well as provide feedback if asked. Artists are the makers, the ones who design, have the idea and create the works, in a job description both have different responsibilities and priorities and these should be noted. I really do not think one should be held up to a higher standard when compared because I really do not think they should be compared. As I addressed at the beginning both are important to accomplish an exhibition, and what is key is the conversation that occurs between the both of them.

According to Smith, “A Curator’s Last Will and Testament:

  1. Passion
  2. An eye of discernment
  3. An empty vessel
  4. An ability to be uncertain
  5. Belief in the necessity of art and artists
  6. A medium – bringing a passionate and informed understanding of works of art to an audience in ways that will stimulate, inspire, question
  7. Making possible the altering of perception