Monday, May 7, 2018

Thoughts on Being in the Art World Part 2: Curating the Curated Curator


Installation view of group show "Extent" curated by Jill Moniz: A Quotidian Project

Installation view of group show " Public Fiction's The Conscientious Objector" curated by Francesca Bertolotti-Bailey and Lauren Mackler at Schindler House, West Hollywood. 


What is curating? This is a question that needs to be addressed. Recently while watching television, I overheard the announcer state, "a special 3 course meal curated by a chef..." Another time I heard someone say that the towels were specially curated by a certain designer. It seems that word "curator" and the verb "curated" are being used so frequently that it's beginning to lose its meaning. It is the pathetic attempt of the popular culture to elevate everything and anything into art. Despite the Duchampian approach to the concept of art, not everything is art and art can't be everything. I believe that it's time to reclaim the word "curate." Being in the art world means more than just going to galleries and museums to see art. Seeing art is just one step in a million-mile journey. When you start curating, like writing, the engagement with art begins.

So, how can art reclaim the word "curate"? Art can reclaim the word "curate" by asserting meaning into the term. The word cannot be synonymous with word "select." When used in lieu of "select" then towels, meals, dresses, and anything else can be "curated" as if there is an art in the act of selection. The first time I curated a show, I did a studio visit with a prominent artist. This artist proceeded to inquire about what made me a curator. He stated that anyone can curate, but can you "curate" an exhibition where there is meaning to the what is being shown. From that point on I knew that being curator and curating an exhibition would require something more than choosing art that was "cool" or more than the reflection of my personal tastes. The practice of being a curator was about exploring the world and communicating ideas through art.      

When curating art, creating meaning and communicating ideas is essential to any art exhibition. A real curator is more than someone who selects "things" and places them on display. To curate a show, the curator looks at the art, then turns around and looks at the world. The exhibition reflects what is both seen and not seen. The ideas and concepts flow together when art and the artists are brought together to explore ideas, concepts, and the world around. Harold Szeesman recently was the subject of an exhibition at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles where the museum recreated a 1972 exhibition he curated based on the life of his grandfather, who was a hair dresser. Szeesman took a familial aspect of his life and communicated it as an idea where the boundaries between art, life, personal memory and history are blurred. This is just one example of many. Szeesman had the courage to look at his grandfather and created an exhibition that acted as both an homage and as a work of art. 

The curator is never afraid. As someone in the artworld, a curator looks at a lot of art. When you see an unknown street artist that you love, not only place him in your group show, but include him with artists who are MFA graduates from UCLA, and established artists represented by Gagosian, and any other artists who is within and outside the art world. Then, defend it. Don't back down from your decision. You are the curator, and you are bringing the ideas and concepts that have brought the artists into the exhibition. In 1992, the then curator for the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, Paul Schimmel organized "Helter Skelter: LA Art in the 1990s", looking at the state of art in Los Angeles at the turn of the millenium. Schimmel included Robert Williams, the founder of low brow art and Juxtapoz Art and Culture magazine, with artists like Mike Kelley, Charles Ray, and others that were part of the high art scene of Los Angeles. It was brilliant, because with the addition of Williams to exhibition one had a sense that art in Los Angeles was diverse and engaging on many levels. It reflected the zeitgeist of Los Angeles in the late 20th century. I have seen recently a curator included a cult to in a group show about  extraterrestrials and the occult. Curators take the risks and have no fear in the decisions that they make. This willingness adds to the meaning of what a curator does. 

There is definitely a crisis of meaning in the art world today. When too many art experiences focus on "selfies" and other exercises in narcissism, art looses its meaning and ends up communicating nothing. The reason so much can be "curated", because it's about the selector and not about the art. With a curator in the art world, it's about the art and the artists. The art and artists are central. Here's a test. Imagine a group show and take away the curator. Does the art as a whole and together retain it's meaning? Does the group continue to explore an idea, subject, concept, etc.? If the meaning remains, then the curator has accomplished its goal. If not, then the group is just a mere selection and nothing more. I am not completely dismissing a selection versus curating. A selected group of works can sometimes be just as telling as a curated group show.  In general, the truly curated brings meaning to the selected. 


Curating elevates the selection of artwork. It provides the viewer a narrative, or makes a statement through the art that the curator selects. Selecting for the sake of the selector  does not create meaning. I now return to the question at the beginning of this essay, how does the art world reclaim the word "curate" when it is used in every aspect of "selecting" with djs, designers, chefs, book sellers, etc? The word "curate" may have to run its course in the dialog. The current curator has to continue creating exhibitions and shows that say something greater than "this is me" and "this looks cool." Meaning, with elucidation, the work placed together communicates as a whole, and each individually something more than the surface and reflection. Continue to "curate" that communicates depth and the word will then be reclaimed.       

#curating #curate #curateversusselection #itsallabouttheart #communication

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