Who Can Be a Curator, Anyway?
Updated: Mar 17, 2019
This morning my mom forwarded me an Artsy article, Everyone's a Curator. That's Not (Always) a Bad Thing. For a moment, I thought she was trolling me - it had, after all, come almost immediately after a text that read, "Saw your blog." The period was hers, not mine. She is one of my greatest art inspirations, although she might not think of herself in that way, and it matters a lot to me what she thinks as I push further into this world.
However, upon reading the article, I felt inspired and encouraged. You should read it too (linked above)!
Over the last three years as I've been flexing my art muscles, I've often shied away from calling myself a curator, and even a collector. Obviously, my stance has evolved somewhat, but I still occasionally doubt my place as a "curator" when the curators I know and admire have put in so much work and time towards their education and the development of their vocation. I would not want my curatorial pursuits and aspirations to detract from their accomplishments, or in any way imply that I am on the same footing.
But Alina Cohen, the article's author, quotes Roya Sachs of the Lever House Collection, and Spring Place, as saying, "Anyone can be an artist; anyone can be a curator. A curator is really a facilitator. A curator is someone who connects people and ideas and creativity and finds a way to create a universal language between them.” This to me is something to highlight, cherish, print out and hang on the wall. This is exactly how I think about curatorial practice and the role of people like myself in the art world.
An art world giant who was the first person to pay me the immense complement of calling me a "great collector" said, when I dithered, that if I only compared myself to giants I would never measure up. The depth and breadth of my passion, and my willingness and desire to engage with artists, curators, collectors, and others, was more than enough. "Every great collector starts somewhere." And so do all great curators. The discussion broadens and the democratization of access that I care so much about increases when more people can create places for themselves.
According to Cohen, Brian Droitcour, associate editor at Art in America notes the rise of smaller alternative spaces and how they are changing the art world. These spaces do "facilitate exhibitions and new artistic commissions," but "public programming and outreach are just as important to their missions." SECRET DUNGEON, a project space I helped found in 2016 and where I truly got my start, was one such place. Curation is about care, to deny that would be false, but it's truly about facilitating a conversation and providing context and information between artists and their audience.
I recently shed my fear of calling myself a curator because I realised that the conversations I was having with artists were the types of conversations that a curator should be having with an artist. I stopped resisting what seemed so obvious to others (they were, after all, approaching me), that a lifetime of art education, formal and informal, had created in me someone who artists and collectors want to work with. My desire to facilitate is both the journey and the destination. My favorite part of any meeting, studio visit, or call is a note later from an artist that reads, "Thank you so much. You really gave me something to think about and I'm excited to see what comes next," and those comments are becoming more frequent.
So what do you think? What is the role of a curator? And who can claim the title?
To quote Cohen one more time, "broadening the definition [of curator] promotes a greater range of perspectives about what art can mean, and for whom it is intended." And that is all I can hope to contribute to.