The Curating Debate: Is There a Need for Art Curators Anymore?

By Dorian in Misc > Art Opinion

Is there a need for art curators anymore?

Contemporary art curators guide the collection and display of artwork, whether in museums or galleries. They often explain, or help clarify, the intent of the work, too.

Yet times are changing. As more artists go online to sell their artwork, what will the fate of the curator be?

This is such a hotly debated topic that ART LIES magazine devoted its entire Fall 2008 issue to this very question.

What I am about to say is in no way a criticism of what curators do. In fact, if I hadn’t gone to West Point, I may have attended an art school and studied art history—being an art curator could have been my career.

But I often wonder. . . do we still need art curators?

Who should interpret the work?

When I walk into a gallery I know that there is a person (or group of people) responsible for showing me a collection of works and interpreting a group of artists’ point of view.

J.C. Fregnan notes that the word “curator” has a few different meanings, and explains: “A direct loan from Latin, it derives from the transitive verb curare, which meant both ‘to cure’ in its various senses and, generically, ‘to be in charge of.'”

So if we stay true to the root of the word curate, aren’t all artists directly “in charge” of the direction of their creations?

And can’t we, the viewers, interpret the artist’s point for ourselves?

Sometimes I pull the meaning together on my own. Sometimes I don’t. Whether I do or not, it’s important to realize that the collection put before me might not hit the mark anyway. Curators are not infallible.

Interpretation and promotion

Authors Michelle White and Nato Thompson write, “In many ways, the job of the contemporary curator goes against a collective model.”

“Something of a negotiator, the task of the curator is not necessarily about provoking but about figuring out how to facilitate and contextualize the ideas of artists and works of art that often operate within the same system that is being critiqued.”

So in my understanding, this makes the curator a promoter or agent, right? And aren’t most artists promoters or agents for themselves already?

Artists as curators

I know many artists who are not waiting for other people to promote their work. Getting beyond the doors of the galleries has traditionally been such a struggle that it explains the increase in online marketing tools like Etsy and 1000 Markets.

Some artists are literally selling their wares on the street hoping to reach a larger market. Many others are developing a following on the internet, which I believe is the largest art gallery in the world.

I believe, by definition, that the modern artist is the modern curator.

What do you think? Are artists the next curators? Do you think curators will soon be extinct? Leave a comment at my blog and let me know your thoughts. Cheers!

Read more articles by Dorian at her blog,


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