Art Curators Redefine Curating

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"As art galleries increasingly turn into spaces that engage the public, what is the role of the curator?"

     The idea of the art gallery as a stale room for viewers to go and look is becoming obsolete. A recent shift in art shows that contemporary art galleries are evolving into public spaces that encourage interaction with and amongst its viewers, where the audience becomes instrumental to the experience and effect of the art. With this transformation of the gallery space, the role of the curator comes into question. Griselda Murray Brown of The Financial Times reports on the often unnoticed and invisible decisions the come into play as contemporary curators redefine what it means to curate and the new ways in which they are shaping our experience with art. 

     French curator Vincent Honore, with whom the writer of this article meets, is quoted saying, "I position the works in the right way and I activate them", bringing to mind the class definition of "organize" as creating (or activating) capabilities  by intentionally imposing order. Honore is the director of the David Roberts Art Foundation (DRAF) in London, which he deems as the new model for contemporary art museums. He emphasizes the space as having a "public mission", as opposed to most private exhibitions. In addition to housing art, Honore envisions the space as a "centre of cultural exchange"; by day, it will function as a library for artists, researchers, and other curators. During evenings, it becomes a space for public events. 

     If galleries were "Organizing Systems" and works of art "resources", then Honore is changing the "interactions" supported through his gallery by not only dispersing information, but also co-producing knowledge. He stresses that the foundation be open and flexible, "a living organism, able to adapt itself to contemporary debates." Fittingly, his first exhibition features a gradual replacement of works, as opposed to the static replacement of an entire show. The Zabludowicz Collection, not far from DRAF, functions in a very similar vein. Curator Ellen Mara de Wachter also prioritizes the gallery as a "public programme", organizing the space to include interactive reading groups, lectures, and artist talks. Wachter steers away from tradition and curates to drive in the idea that "meaning is made socially". 

     The "Vocabulary Problem", addressed during the first lecture, arises as Honore and Wachter redefine not only the act of curating, but the idea of what a gallery space is and how meaning from art is extracted. How exactly should one curate? What is a gallery space? Xavier Bray, curator of a surprisingly successful exhibition displaying polychrome Madonnas and brutalized martyrs, states "A curator should disappear once everything's up, to let people make up their minds." This sentiment, rooted in a more traditional conception of curating, would likely be opposed by Sarah McCrory of Frieze Projects, who wants to eliminate the experience of looking at art in a "window-shopping way". Organizing Principles are shifting as personal interpretation of art is evolving into a social creation of experience.  Progressive "agents" of the art space are redefining what it means to organize not only works of art, but its interactions with viewers.