The Curator, The Exhibition, The Artist & The Issues


Since the 1960’s the profession of the curator has radically changed. Before this so-called Curatorial Turn the curator was mainly seen as a caretaker that worked behind the scenes of museums. By means of radical developments within the arts, critical attitudes from artists and several pioneering curators, the profession of the curator elevated to an independent artistic practitioner, that was no longer working behind the scenes.


Ever since the Curatorial Turn, there has been a lot of reflection, discussion and debate around this new curator. The critique from Daniel Buren on Harald Szeemann during the Documenta V (1972), might be seen as the beginning of tensions between the curator and artist. The recent E-Flux conversation ‘Heavily Curated Biennials Really Bother Me As An Artist’ (2015) might be regarded as an example that this discussion is still very topical. These tensions, critiques and issues led me to write this Master-thesis in which I investigated a very basic question: What are the issues regarding the curator-as-author in relation to the artist? And how can I as a young curator deal with these issues?


CURATOR | Due to a relative short existence of this new form of curatorship, confusion might occur in theory. Terms that are coined, to identify types of curators, differ a lot. Juxtaposing the Curator-as-artist with the Curator-as-author concluded that these two notions are in general sense the same notions. Both of them deal with a curator that produces exhibitions from-out artistic motives, that present its own ideas, perspectives or thesis, and lastly appears as the author of the exhibition. In the notion of the Curator-as-author (or as-artist) curating could be regarded as an artistic discipline, the curator as the artist and the exhibition as the medium and work of art.


EXHIBITION | For this thesis I investigated the relation between the curator and the artist. For this I needed to research the notion of the exhibition, because in this context the curator and artist relate to each other. The exhibition could be regarded as the bridge between the curator and the artist, in which they collaborate and collide. Besides that, the exhibition is also a medium that both curator and artist tried to expand and elevate to art. Therefore it was from importance look deeper into exhibition histories, investigate the notion of the exhibition and what it could be, and think of different exhibition contexts and formats.


ARTIST | The role of the artist within the developments of the curator is often underestimated: it was huge. Firstly, the critical attitude from artists on museums across the 20th century caused an increase of international large-scale exhibitions, which are better known as biennials. These exhibitions asked for equipped organizers, and the curator responded. Within these specific exhibitions the curator broke loose with the museum, took on different roles and expand the notion of the exhibition. Secondly, it became clear that the artist was the precursor of the artistic curator. Developments in the arts, such as the rise of Conceptual Art, installations, Gesammtkunst and site-specific work, led artists to use the format of the exhibition as a new and artistic medium. Today we identify this type of artist as the Artist-as-curator.


ISSUES | From-out preliminary research I concluded that three issues are at the heart of the discussion: If curating is artistic or not (1), who the real author of the exhibition is (2) and if curators could endanger the (artistic) autonomy of artists (3). These issues are not separate issues, but rather deeply intertwined. I investigated the question if curating is artistic or not, from-out two perspectives. Firstly, a theoretical approach, to find answer in the philosophical notion of authorship. Secondly, a more practical approach: in which extent do the activities of the Artist-as-curator differ from that of the Curator-as-author. I concluded that this matter is highly subjective; people need to decide for themselves if curating is artistic or not. The second issue deals with the authorship of the exhibition. The acceptance of the Curator-as-author changed the relation between the curator and the artist: from supply-demand structure into competitors for artistic authorship. This finally led to another conflict: the autonomy of the artist. Artists felt a problematic hierarchy between them and the curator. Solutions might be found in the artist’s road to autonomy, understanding for the sensitivities and good agreements. Concluding: the issues occur from three sides: the curator, the exhibition and the artist. They all have a hand in the relation and all can shape things for the better. With the gained knowledge, I as a young curator will try to solve these problems in my own practice, and create a better understanding between the curator as artistic practitioner and the artist.



*this is a summary of the master thesis of Appelo.