The New York Times on Curating: On The Tip of Creative Tongues, Part One

by Art Fag City on October 6, 2009 Events


Overhead shot at MoMA

Here’s some old news for those of us who have been working on the Internet for a while: “curate” is a buzz word. As it happens, Alex Williams’ recent article in The Times on the subject adds to a piece I wrote back in 2006 on the curatorial concept of The Sanctity and the Scrum, an exhibition at Black and White Gallery. It was mostly a pan of curator David Hunt’s conceit that pluralism suggested the diminishing importance of curation, though I also meant to articulate the specific needs of a gallery space.

… Two things seem to be happening that are dividing the practice of curation. One: the importance of presorting is diminishing. For example, how many of us buy music compilations these days? Not so many. Thank you iTunes music store. How many of us use search engines like Yahoo that provide us with search categories? Again, not so many. Thank you Google. Frustrated by the fact that you have to buy five cases of beer because you like five different varieties? Not any more – curate your own case of beer. Thank you, deli store owners.

The idea that the viewer/consumer has the best understanding of what they want is now taking precedent. So who needs a curator when you've got yourself, right? Well, if the role of the curator is to be a filter, than it looks like they are still just as much in demand as they were before. Flavorpill has built an immensely successful business model based on this idea, and reblogging continues to impact online journalism, as it significantly effects what gets read. Clearly there is still great value to the practice of curation.

Hunt speculates that there is no hope to build a case for a “unifying theme”, and I would add, that broadly speaking, it no longer matters. The flaw in his logic however, is that in whatever ways lifestyles and modes of thinking have changed in the last couple of years, the functionality of a gallery space remains the same. You can't throw a bunch of artists in a room and expect the viewer to make sense of it all. Curation requires a little more rigor than this.

I probably wouldn’t describe the practice of curation with as simplistic a definition as I did then, but the essential points remain the same. There may not be any point in trying to make a lineage of all the content out there, but some sort of sorting method isn’t a bad idea. With that said, I’m no longer so certain I want to take on the role “curator” in addition to all the other work I have to do. More on this later today.

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