Esse arts + opinions Magazine: Be Nice to Your Curator, No 72 – Curators – Spring/Summer 2011

Contributions by curators Sylvette Babin, Sophia Krzys Acord, Paul Ardenne, Jean-Philippe Uzel, Louise Déry, Nathalie Desmet, Michèle Thériault, Marie-Eve Beaupré.

Last year’s spring/summer issue of ESSE magazine was entirely devoted to curatorial practice. What does it mean to be a curator nowadays? How does curatorial practice evolve in different settings and structures? How valid are the criticisms against the role of the curator? Esse’s issue Be Nice to Your Curator presents an array of insightful essays written by curators and prompts the reader to reflect upon the enduring role of the curator. However, since curatorial practice is not confined to exhibitions, for this special issue Marie-Eve Beaupré has been invited to intervene through comments you can find in red ink between the texts. Besides the linguistic ambiguities that the word “curator” might pose across different languages, for example, curator in English, commissaire in French, the role of the curator seems to appeal to a larger set of criticisms and speculations.

Sophia Krzys Acord in her text “Guest Curating in the museum: Lost in Translation?” explores the risks of guest curating highlighting the different ends of museum curatorial practice versus independent curating. Acord unravels the limitations of such collaboration, which might lead to conventional outcomes with respect to audience engagement and the art itself. Looking at curating from a sociological perspective, Acord investigates the process of the production of knowledge within institutional settings and in relation to independent curating.

Paul Ardenne in his text “Curating Exhibitions: An Evolving and Ambiguous Function” takes a more radical stance on curators by exposing the levels of credibility of popular star-curators, who have more or less shaped a debatable but a rock-hard landscape to act in. Seeking to map the crisis experienced in curating nowadays, Ardenne further elaborates on the current institutional imperative for curated shows by artists and provides a critique for what makes a great exhibition in a chaotic art system led by dynamics other than of the art itself.

Jean-Philippe Uzel’s “The Author-Curator and His Critics” starts off with the well-known and persistent criticism against curators for having replaced the artists. Through an interesting history of curatorial criticism, from Daniel Buren in the sixties to Paul Ardenne and artist Anton Vidokle in 2010, Uzel draws a coherent parallel between the criticisms of contemporary art itself and the practice of curating.

Louise Déry elaborates on the concept of the “love exposed” curator in a more romantic fashion analysing diligently the responsibilities of the curator in her text “Curator, Your Love’s on Display”. Déry discusses the tensions and conflicts among institutions, curators and collectors seeking to reflect on the quality of the artistic practice as well as the significance of communicating art through exhibitions that foreground knowledge and thought.

Nathalie Desmet in her “Institutional Recognition and New Curatorial Practices” explores the strategies used by institutions and curators with the purpose of constructing a new self for institutions. Desmet reports on the concept of the “New Institutionalism” and discusses its problematics by identifying the new trends in both institutional and curatorial practices and by providing critical examples.

Last but not least, Michèle Thériault’s “The ephemeral as an agent of reflexive inquiry” examines the potential of the ephemeral in the production of critical and reflective environments. Thériault reviews her curatorial practice within an academic setting, that of the university art gallery and presents three case studies where the ephemeral allows for experimental shifts in the role of artists, curators and institutions.

On the whole Be Nice to Your Curator gives readers an insider view of international curatorial practice and reconsiders the status of the curator today. There are many examples of exhibitions with supportive visual material of artworks and methods of display that are valuable for anyone interested in curating.

The magazine is available in both French and English. You can get a sneak preview here http://www.esse.ca/en/revue/curators and you can purchase it here http://www.esse.ca/en/shop/magazines

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