It is clear that curatorial practice today goes well beyond mounting art exhibitions and caring for works of art. Curators do a lot more: they administer the experience of art by selecting what is made visible, contextualize and frame the production of artists, and oversee the distribution of production funds, fees, and prizes that artists compete for. Curators also court collectors, sponsors, and museum trustees, entertain corporate executives, and collaborate with the press, politicians, and government bureaucrats; in other words, they act as intermediaries between producers of art and the power structure of our society.
A press release for a recent conference on curatorial practice (at which I originally presented this paper) portrayed the figure of the curator as a knowledgeable and transparent agent moving between cultures and disciplines—a cultural producer par excellence. Furthermore, it seemed to suggest that art has become a subgenre of “the Curatorial”:
The conference “Cultures of the Curatorial” aims at positioning the Curatorial—a practice which goes decisively beyond the making of exhibitions—within a transdisciplinary and transcultural context and exploring it as a genuine method of generating, mediating and reflecting experience and knowledge. . . . Between art and science forms of practice, techniques, formats and aesthetics have emerged which can be subsumed under the notion of the “Curatorial”—not dissimilar to the functions of the concepts of the filmic or the literary.
The necessity of going “beyond the making of exhibitions” should not become a justification for the work of curators to supersede the work of artists, nor a reinforcement of authorial claims that render artists and artworks merely actors and props for illustrating curatorial concepts. Movement in such a direction runs a serious risk of diminishing the space of art by undermining the agency of its producers: artists.
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