The Trouble with Curating

To speak of curating as a practice in a post-modern sense is to address the contemporaneity of taste, to dissect process of aesthetic selection and the culture of exclusion. But how did such a practice come about, or did it always exist just not in an institutionalized mode? Perhaps, the emergence or the introduction of the currency to the term ‘curating’ in the recent 30 years is a direct result of the professionalization of the art world, the increased population of educated cultural consumers and the rise of the Mega-Museum (think MoMA, Centre Pompidou, Tate).

Alternatively, curating can be viewed as a practice, which existed since the times of Ancient civilizations when Greek Temples and monuments (such as the Parthenon) were heavily ‘curated’ by the commissioning bodies. But art served a different function then, whether iconographic or historicizing, objects were admired for their aesthetic quality as well as their capacity to carry transcendental power. Today art is about ideas, at least since Duchamp and the advent of industrialization and de-secularization of societies. Art is about the possibilities and limits of meaning. It is about the production and consumption of knowledge and curators are the ‘high priests’ that mediate the message to the public.

In the recent talk title “The Trouble with Curating” held at the ICA, the panelists still seemed to struggle with the definition and function of ‘curating’ while many of them have filled the role at some point in their careers. Mostly the concern appears to emanate from the ambiguity between art production and exhibition production. Since the advent of conceptual art in the 1960s and the commonly adopted artistic method of installation, there hardly appears to be a difference between what an artist may do and what a curator claims to do. However, not all artists choose to involve their work in installation design. In other words, there still is may exist a need for extending one mode of production (artistic) into another, simulating the shift from product-economy to service-economy. Furthermore, it can be proposed that curating creates another mode of economy and it is that of experience. If curators are mediators of knowledge, meaning and ideas, then they must carry out their purpose through the facilitation and construction of appropriate situations where ‘art happens,’ as Pavel Buchler put it.

Curators are also interventionists in their own right, constantly negotiating potential of space and time and the ideas proposed by artists. If curating is the practice of creating ‘a dialogue, or discourse, between exhibition,’ as Penelope Curtis asserts then those who claim to be curators are ultimately knowledge-producers. Curators are the embodiment of the pursuit of contemporaneity, the ‘here and now’, of history and culture. Whether it is in fact possible to capture history as it happens is a problem that may never be solved, but curators today play a game of weaving this fabric of history with the threads artists provide.

The Trouble with Curating talk was held on Thursday, December 9th, 2010 at the ICA. To find out more, please visit ICA website.

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