Monday May 26th, 2003.
During the last decade, a new occupation emerged in contemporary art exhibitions: the curator. No one really knows what their job involves, but the truth is that no show can exist without them. Here are some notes about the new position of what we call a curator.
During these past years, we’ve seen numerous exhibitions in which a new individual appears, apart from the artist or the institution, an individual who has slowly become part of the general organization of the show: the curator. Like in other occasions, the word quickly spread in the art world, but few know what it means and what a curator does. In legal terms, the word “curator” comes from the field of Law and it’s used to refer to a person who has been legally appointed to take care of the interests of one who, on account of his youth, or defected of his understanding, or for some other cause, is unable to attend to them himself. In art, the curator (called “comisario” in Spain and “curador” in Argentina) is the person in charge of an exhibition.
Historically, during the 20th century, artists were their own curators. But as art became an event that exceeded only aesthetics, new positions or tasks appeared that would act as intermediaries. Art and its relations with the market, art fairs and new cultural tourism’s mega-events, created the need for a more complex workforce that must include mounting, sponsorship, cataloguing, publications, and press. If the artist himself has to search for money in order to carry out his own show, for example, it would be extremely difficult to work on his production.
This is how labor is divided to ease the artist’s workload, theoretically, and achieve maximum quality in an exhibition.
And where does one learn curating? In international museums such as the Whitney in New York, there’s a specific education section dedicated to curating training. In Argentina, The Academia del Sur, founded in 1996, has a Critic and Curatorship Specialization under the direction of Martha Nanni, Marcelo Pacheco, and Julio Sánchez, and others.
Through an alliance with the Fondo Nacional de las Artes and the Guggenheim Museum, in 1999, Fundación Proa conducted a curating seminar with professionals from the American Museum.
The participants were chosen through a previous open call. Contacted by this media outlet, Adriana Lauría, one of the participants, said: “We had one week with each of the curating department’s chiefs because each section is managed by a specific professional specialized in each topic: mounting, publishing, educational programs, sponsorship, applied technology, press and communication, cataloguing, insurance, and transport. In Argentina, the curator is responsible of all of these activities, which makes the job very hard.”
As in other disciplines, we, Argentinians, tend to divide ourselves between different jobs in a schizophrenic way. No honest art critic can live in this country solely from writing texts for exhibition catalogues. This is when tasks start to get mixed up and the environment to corrupt.
At the same time, Guggenheim’s authorities were surprised by how many logos from Argentine companies appear in the catalogues of local exhibitions. In our country it’s hard to find one company willing to fully invest in an artist’s show.
One company pays for the signaling, another one for the catalogue, the lights are paid by another, and this is why the last page of an exhibition’s catalogue contains more logo’s than information about the show itself.
The National Museum of Fine Arts invites artists to show their work in its rooms offering only the space and lights. Cases like that of Miguel Harte, who during two years searched for money to celebrate his anthological exhibition, show us the complete abandonment artists suffer when trying to organize an exhibition.
The curator isn’t the only problem. We should ask ourselves why artists meekly follow the systems requirements.
Basically, the curator is the one who possesses the concept of a show and works hand-in-hand with the artist to follow through with it. To do this, the curator must have deep knowledge of art history to be able to understand the “symbolic element” of what he is working with, to contextualize it, and also to be available to the public to optimize the information.
In the Palais de Glace (National Exhibition Hall), there’s currently an exhibition of Miguel D’Arienzo. In its catalogue, together with Gustavo Vázquez Ocampo (a specialized and experienced professional) appears Isabel de Anchorena, the artist’s marchand, or art dealer. How to explain such contradiction? If the art dealer is also a curator and critic, if the art sections in the media are in charge of general journalists just in order not to pay specialized contributors, the public’s confusion and artist’s anger are completely understandable. Because general confusion becomes a cambalache.
The quality and criteria of exhibitions is another issue. There are curators closely related to historical investigation, as in the show curated by Valeria González in MALBA’s contemporary art space, with pieces by Red, Magdalena Jitrik, and Javier Trímboli. Within that same institution, which takes care of the show’s production (mounting team, sponsorship, lighting, signaling and catalogue), there have been other curatorial criteria such as Gaumier Maier’s, who organized Sandro Pereira and Nahuel Vecino’s show. For Gaumier, the intuition and emotion transmitted by the artwork are the only fundamental documents needed to select the pieces for a show.
It’s possible that the great amount of independent artist groups or collectives surfaced in these last years (Venus, MOTP, El Ingenio, Córdoba 0351, among others) are a consequence of this messy system of intermediaries that affects the art world today in Argentina.
Nonetheless, we shouldn’t generalize, because just like everywhere else, there are artists and curators who are professional, and others who are not.
THE DEBATE BEGINS
Without a doubt, this issue is still under discussion. Being a curator doesn’t just involve selecting an artist’s work and organizing a show. It’s interesting to read the catalogue of Guillermo Kuitca’s show in the Museo Nacional de Arte Reina Sofía, Palacio Velázquez, the words of Sonia Becce. Under the title “Asuntos Curatoriales” or “Curatorial Matters” she begins explaining what her job consists in as the curator of an Argentinian artist’s work and the show. “The curator’s job consists basically in the care of that which has already obtained its category of art, and that is left in the care and custody of the curator.
When curating an exhibition, one always starts from a previous project, an anticipation, or plan that define a particular position of the inter-related pieces. These criteria aim to articulate the pieces’ visibility.”
The curating issue and the extent of art critic are now in deep discussion, and it’s important to start talking about it. Some shows end up disorienting the spectator and infuriating the artist, so they really sicken more than heal.
The debate has just begun.
BY LAURA BATKIS