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Is curating essential to art production?

At the Bard-hosted symposium on the future of curating that took place Nov. 6–8, 2014, artist Liam Gillick, one of the few non-curators to present a talk at the event, expressed skepticism about the role of the curator. He coined the wry term “complete curator” to describe a curatorial practice that treats art as supplementary rather than essential to curating.

This raises a related question: Is curating essential to art?

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There is a similar sentiment expressed in this essay from a few years ago:

even further back, there were a lot of similar ideas in a project organized by Jens Hoffmann, called The Next Documenta Should Be Curated By An Artist



This seems like a false opposition. As the past few years of “curated” playlists, clothing lines, and flatware collections have shown, the term (and/or the practice, depending on your perspective) is perfectly capable of detaching itself from art production. Curation isn’t obligated to treat art as essential, any more than art requires curation to come to fruition. At this point, it feels like they should be treated as two separate practices, that most often appear symbiotically (ie, to mutual advantage).


It is dependent on the ideological definition of the audience and of the term art-production fro which the mode of art-production follows. An artist may intend and conceive his work for the audience as fellow-artist. In that case a curator will be a redundant position in art-production which is regarded as a one on one and unmediated, democratic relation. From an artist perspective this is often regarded as interference in establishing a direct hierarchically unhampered relation. It requires an informed spectator though,and on that is willing to honor this set-up in which the power of nomination to the artwork is situated at and reserved to the artist. Art-production now commonly is the whole of production in which the curator and the institution are of equal importance in establishing the notion of ‘the artistic’, transferring authorship to both museum and institute. In a sense both are curatorial functions, but only differ in ideas on what position holds the power of nomination.

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Dear Segbars, Power of nomination? So reductive and cynical this view. If you look closer at the hands-on practice, either of curators or artists, there is an essential difference. Curators are not artist obviously and vise versa. An artist needs a curator only as a facilitator or someone who can attend the artist(often an emerging young one) about the trends and do’s and don’ts. However a curator generally does not determine the artistic substance of an artist’s practice. Look for the good and interesting artists and then you realise that this question is fully irrelevant. But off course if you are interested in the sociological study of art, then these conclusions that you draw naturally follow.

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Indeed a curator does not determine the artistic substance of an artist’s practise. How could it be so? Did I claim such a thing? But vice versa does an artist determine the substance of curatorial practise? The answer you must agree here is also no. Cannot an artist facilitate a curator? So there are two strands of production. You prefer to put the outcome of the artist position as prevalent. I wonder if that is the case. What does it mean for example if you say: " Look for the good and interesting artists"? Does that not affirm the status of the curator as authoritative and constitutive agent? I think the label of cynicism is totally missing the point here. I am not interested solely in the sociological nature of art. Of course curating is essential to art production.


Sure, an artist’s practice doesn’t determine the substance of curatorial practice. But artist practices in the plural do. While the reverse is less the case. And as you say indeed an artist does facilitate a curator in this sense. But by ‘looking for the good and interesting artists’, I do not say that only a curator can do that as you seem to imply. And again curating is essential to art production, but mostly if not only on the level of dissemination and publicity. A curator is not an essential agent in the development of the artist’s genius. A curator merely administers what has already been achieved in private by the artist. Essentialising or even equalising the role of the curator with that of the artist in the production of art, is only possible through the sociological lens. One of its disadvantages being that it opens up discussions like this that have nothing to do with good art. David Levine above, put it very well.

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I agree with @davidlevine on this. Curation is everywhere. With 2.92 billion people currently capable of Internet “creation”, curation is essential. Curation of art. Curation of fun pop music to drive to the beach by. Curation of everything. What is e-flux? Isn’t it curation of ideas?

The article that @Svetlana referenced above is also very thoughtful on this. It worries about

a serious risk of diminishing the space of art by undermining the agency of its producers: artists

I wonder how real this distinction is? Don’t all forms of media have “Creators” and “Gatekeepers”? We can call those gatekeepers “Curators” or “Music A&R Executives” or “Studio Chiefs” or “Book Publishers”… in many cases their judgement determines whose work gets seen. Sometimes an artist in any media can achieve a level of success beyond the gatekeepers, but for most artists most of the time, they need the validation of the gatekeepers.

The Internet has allowed everyone (or the 2.92 / 7.125 billion person part of humankind that’s currently wired anyway) to speak. But the more people who speak, the more being heard becomes something to negotiate. Which is why we’re having this conversation on e-flux instead of on an individual’s blog.


I think @vanessa makes an excellent point about gatekeepers and more people being heard — I guess, this begs the question, when does content production become just a flood of noise? We tend to think of gatekeepers being the ‘bad guys’ since they’re so commonly associated with executive or institutionalized powers, but what if these 2.92/7.125 billion not just speak, but act as a filter for what is spoken? Where do we draw the line of who should be able to speak, especially with things like that do require content moderation: http://www.wired.com/2014/10/content-moderation/ ?