22 February 2011: Discussion on the role of the artist versus the role of the curator at Ideal
The debate concerning the role of the artist versus the role of the curator seemed timely, especially after our last discussion, which raised a number of questions regarding Vavatsis’ collection, including whether it might be considered a work of art, whether a curator might have the capacity to designate it as such, and how this type of collection might be presented within the context of a museum.
Beyond our immediate conversation, the debate has certainly been in the spotlight these past few years with the appointment of artist Artur Żmijewski as curator to the 7th Berlin Biennial, the multiplication of exhibitions and symposia dedicated to curatorial research and the publication of Anton Vidokle’s controversial essay “Art Without Artists?” in E-flux journal (2010). The latter seemed to crystalize the debate rather well so we used it as reading material in preparation for our discussion.
Personally, I have to admit that the subject hit rather close to home as I’d recently agreed – not without some reserve – to participate in “Curator’s Table” (January 2011), an exhibition showcasing the practice of 6 curators.
Arguably one of the most interesting propositions made during our discussion came from an artist, who argued on the one hand, that the work of a good curator can be likened to that of an artist, and on the other, that the power struggle between artists and curators is likely market-driven. The comment seemed particularly relevant given the local art scene, where a lot of practitioners and theorists are investing time and personal resources to develop projects in the absence of much needed public funding and unbiased support – hardly the hierarchical structure that Vidokle condones. Indeed, the participant’s comment shared common ground with curator Jacopo Crivelli Visconti’s account of the art scene in Sao Paolo in response to Vidokle’s essay.
In the end, it seemed that our discussion kept coming back to two key questions: 1) ambiguity vs. taking a position; 2) sovereignty vs. public accountability
While we all agreed on the necessity to safeguard the artist’s sovereignty, both artist and curator participants alike also surprisingly recognized a form of curatorial authorship defined by public accountability. As to the question of ambiguity versus ideological didacticism, it will be interesting to see the outcome of Żmijewski’s open call, which required artists to declare their political allegiances (arguably a suicidal move if it had been made by a curator rather than an artist). Whether this serves to exclude artists from the Berlin Biennial or classify the works according to political affinities remains to be seen.