Are Artists Losing Ground With the Rise of Curators?

by Art Fag City on May 24, 2010 · 71 comments Events

POST BY PADDY JOHNSON

Maurizio Cattelan, Massimiliano Gioni and Ali Subotnick, The Wrong Museum, Image via: C-Monster

Has the status of the artist fallen with the rise of curators? Anton Vidokle suggests as much in Art Without Artists, his latest essay in e-flux journal #16.

The necessity of going “beyond the making of exhibitions” should not become a justification for the work of curators to supersede the work of artists, nor a reinforcement of authorial claims that render artists and artworks merely actors and props for illustrating curatorial concepts. Movement in such a direction runs a serious risk of diminishing the space of art by undermining the agency of its producers: artists.

This unease has been mounting for some time. In 2006, From the Floor’s Todd Gibson wrote a post which criticized the contextualization of the Wrong Gallery’s curation of the Whitney’ collection as an artistic endeavor within the museum’s Biennial. Gibson goes on to complain about a particularly juvenile project by Biennial curators Chrissie Iles of the Whitney and Philippe Vergne of the Walker, in which they invented an imaginary friend to validate their labor while they’ve been working on the show.

My reaction when reading this piece again ran something along the lines of, “well, as long as curators continue to prove their ineptitude at making art that the artist’s position of art maker is secure.”  It’s a fair response, though it fails to acknowledge the expanding role of the curator as a larger cultural trend; witness the rash of articles on the subject the Times, Tomorrow Museum, and myself amongst them. Everyone’s a curator, because if there’s one thing the internerds want more of, it’s people to direct us to the stuff we already like.

But I digress from Vidokle’s article, which later posits that the expanding role of the curator poses a few risks for the artist. After all not every artist wants a collaborator and there is a sense that there’s sometimes more of this than is needed.

If there is to be critical art, the role of the artist as a sovereign agent must be maintained. By sovereignty, I mean simply certain conditions of production in which artists are able to determine the direction of their work, its subject matter and form, and the methodologies they use—rather than having them dictated by institutions, critics, curators, academics, collectors, dealers, the public, and so forth.

YES. And later,

It has recently been pointed out to me that as artistic production becomes increasingly deskilled—and, by extension, less identifiable by publics as art when placed outside the exhibition environment—exhibitions themselves become the singular context through which art can be made visible as art. This alone makes it easy to understand why so many now think that inclusion in an exhibition produces art, rather than artists themselves. But this is a completely wrong approach in my opinion: what most urgently needs to be done is to further expand the space of art by developing new circulation networks through which art can encounter its publics—through education, publication, dissemination, and so forth—rather than perpetuate existing institutions of art and their agents at the expense of the agency of artists by immortalizing the exhibition as art's only possible, ultimate destination.

This sounds like a manifesto to me. Vidokle founded e-flux, e-flux journal, UnitedNationsPlaza, Museum as Hub and more. He’s not just talking about what he thinks should be done, he’s doing it.

Full disclosure: I am involved in a soon to be announced Vidokle project.

  • Emily

    Bad curators! Bad! Of course art critics like Vidokle have no effect on the way artists produce work, or how it is legitimized by institutions like e-flux.

  • Emily

    Bad curators! Bad! Of course art critics like Vidokle have no effect on the way artists produce work, or how it is legitimized by institutions like e-flux.

  • http://www.artfagcity.com Art Fag City

    I’d describe Vidokle as an artist first, though he’s also a critic and publisher. But whatever – that’s not really your point. e-flux sends out over four emails a day. It’s hard to see them as a truly legitimizing force when they’re handling that kind of volume, though certainly they are respected.

    Here are the things I think:

    1. Curators undeniably have more power than they used to. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing — there’s a certain kind of encyclopedic mind that’s able to make connections within diverse art making practices, and it’s a skill very much in demand these days, and few people are really good at it.

    2. I feel like this article brings up a problem that artists frequently suffer from: Someone else thinking they know their work and intentions better than they do. First it was critics, now it’s curators. In my experience, the professionals I admire most see the artist as the first authority on the subject. I wish there were more of them around.

  • http://www.artfagcity.com Art Fag City

    I’d describe Vidokle as an artist first, though he’s also a critic and publisher. But whatever – that’s not really your point. e-flux sends out over four emails a day. It’s hard to see them as a truly legitimizing force when they’re handling that kind of volume, though certainly they are respected.

    Here are the things I think:

    1. Curators undeniably have more power than they used to. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing — there’s a certain kind of encyclopedic mind that’s able to make connections within diverse art making practices, and it’s a skill very much in demand these days, and few people are really good at it.

    2. I feel like this article brings up a problem that artists frequently suffer from: Someone else thinking they know their work and intentions better than they do. First it was critics, now it’s curators. In my experience, the professionals I admire most see the artist as the first authority on the subject. I wish there were more of them around.

  • http://www.artfagcity.com Art Fag City

    I’d describe Vidokle as an artist first, though he’s also a critic and publisher. But whatever – that’s not really your point. e-flux sends out over four emails a day. It’s hard to see them as a truly legitimizing force when they’re handling that kind of volume, though certainly they are respected.

    Here are the things I think:

    1. Curators undeniably have more power than they used to. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing — there’s a certain kind of encyclopedic mind that’s able to make connections within diverse art making practices, and it’s a skill very much in demand these days, and few people are really good at it.

    2. I feel like this article brings up a problem that artists frequently suffer from: Someone else thinking they know their work and intentions better than they do. First it was critics, now it’s curators. In my experience, the professionals I admire most see the artist as the first authority on the subject. I wish there were more of them around.

  • http://jessepatrickmartin.blogspot.com/ Jesse P. Martin

    Many curators (particularly the “independent” variety) have become a sort of self-proclaimed managerial class to the “proletariat” artist. The worst part is that most artists can’t wait to be chosen by these (or other) curators, most of whom are not artists themselves.

    I’m not questioning the value and/or legitimacy of the curatorial profession (independent or otherwise), but there does appear to be a surfeit of curators these days — perhaps to match the overabundance of artists.

    Why does everything need to be curated, anyway? And when did artists begin to feel that they simply cannot exhibit without someone enacting their superior art-historical Feng Shui upon their work? Again, there are some stellar and much-needed curators out there, but I’m referring to the explosion of curators who are trying to insinuate themselves as essential to a field that has become wrongheadedly “professionalized” to the point that artists never seem to make decisions for themselves anymore. And I don’t think this mentality is something that artists are the victims of: many will gladly give up their voice & agency in how/where their work is exhibited, written about, and otherwise presented to the public. Curators, at their worst, are like sleazy PR reps.

  • http://jessepatrickmartin.blogspot.com/ Jesse P. Martin

    Many curators (particularly the “independent” variety) have become a sort of self-proclaimed managerial class to the “proletariat” artist. The worst part is that most artists can’t wait to be chosen by these (or other) curators, most of whom are not artists themselves.

    I’m not questioning the value and/or legitimacy of the curatorial profession (independent or otherwise), but there does appear to be a surfeit of curators these days — perhaps to match the overabundance of artists.

    Why does everything need to be curated, anyway? And when did artists begin to feel that they simply cannot exhibit without someone enacting their superior art-historical Feng Shui upon their work? Again, there are some stellar and much-needed curators out there, but I’m referring to the explosion of curators who are trying to insinuate themselves as essential to a field that has become wrongheadedly “professionalized” to the point that artists never seem to make decisions for themselves anymore. And I don’t think this mentality is something that artists are the victims of: many will gladly give up their voice & agency in how/where their work is exhibited, written about, and otherwise presented to the public. Curators, at their worst, are like sleazy PR reps.

  • Gianni Schneider

    Can we say REAL ESTATE? It seems that curators are cultural realtors, holding the keys to the physical spaces that legitimize anything as “art”.

    So people will bend backwards to be in any randomly “curated” show…It’s really in a way about economics – the cultural politics of “visibility”…

    I think artists would LOVE to do without curators but the whole thing is too big…even when artists curate shows and open spaces many times it feels it’s about attracting curators anyway…I also think the general thin quality of some art we see a lot of (Greater New York, etc…) has to do with the group-show-culture where more mediocre artists can fit in easily with large, generic “themes”, or surveys…and increasingly it feels that a lot of art is exchangeable, that there are to many exchangeable artists that can fit into so many group shows that it doesn’t really matter in the end as long as it fits the middle…

    The reality is that art – and artists – hasn’t been “autonomous” in a long time and like everything else it fits into a specific economic paradigm.

  • Gianni Schneider

    Can we say REAL ESTATE? It seems that curators are cultural realtors, holding the keys to the physical spaces that legitimize anything as “art”.

    So people will bend backwards to be in any randomly “curated” show…It’s really in a way about economics – the cultural politics of “visibility”…

    I think artists would LOVE to do without curators but the whole thing is too big…even when artists curate shows and open spaces many times it feels it’s about attracting curators anyway…I also think the general thin quality of some art we see a lot of (Greater New York, etc…) has to do with the group-show-culture where more mediocre artists can fit in easily with large, generic “themes”, or surveys…and increasingly it feels that a lot of art is exchangeable, that there are to many exchangeable artists that can fit into so many group shows that it doesn’t really matter in the end as long as it fits the middle…

    The reality is that art – and artists – hasn’t been “autonomous” in a long time and like everything else it fits into a specific economic paradigm.

  • http://c-monster.net c-mon

    But is there really such a thing as artists existing in this pure state where they make things and the public sees them without any filter? (Okay, graffiti, but, we’re clearly talking about high-falutin’ art here.) Like writing, art is, in many ways, a collaborative venture. Someone’s gotta buy the artist’s work (collectors), fund it (hello, Catholic Church), show it (curators) or tell the public about it (critics) — and to think that any of this would happen without artists having to hand over some modicum of authority seems unrealistic.

    Not that I think curators are perfect. They can drive me batty with the art doubletalk and overwrought shows and clique-y most popular artist lists, but the idea that an artist can and should spout their ideas to the world without any sort of interference, is kinda hilarious.

  • http://c-monster.net c-mon

    But is there really such a thing as artists existing in this pure state where they make things and the public sees them without any filter? (Okay, graffiti, but, we’re clearly talking about high-falutin’ art here.) Like writing, art is, in many ways, a collaborative venture. Someone’s gotta buy the artist’s work (collectors), fund it (hello, Catholic Church), show it (curators) or tell the public about it (critics) — and to think that any of this would happen without artists having to hand over some modicum of authority seems unrealistic.

    Not that I think curators are perfect. They can drive me batty with the art doubletalk and overwrought shows and clique-y most popular artist lists, but the idea that an artist can and should spout their ideas to the world without any sort of interference, is kinda hilarious.

  • http://www.artfagcity.com Art Fag City

    @c-mon But is that pure state really what Vidokle is pushing for? I think he’s describing a power dynamic that doesn’t always work in favor for the artist. That’s fair.

  • http://www.artfagcity.com Art Fag City

    @c-mon But is that pure state really what Vidokle is pushing for? I think he’s describing a power dynamic that doesn’t always work in favor for the artist. That’s fair.

  • http://www.artfagcity.com Art Fag City

    @c-mon But is that pure state really what Vidokle is pushing for? I think he’s describing a power dynamic that doesn’t always work in favor for the artist. That’s fair.

  • http://nu4ya.posterous.com K.I.A.

    curators are the the DJs of yesteryear… I’m surprised we didn’t start seeing the double-letter signifier “CR Vergne” or “CR Illes” or “CR Birnbaum” (a la “MC” or “DJ”) a few years ago… filters are fine, & necessary re: the needle/haystack conundrum, but what disturbs me is the drift from collector into “curator” or “artist”. prime example: a prominent collector bought lots of teddy bear photos on ebay, framed thousands of them, displayed them, and then got lauded by critics as a visionary or serious artist (rather than as an obsessive internet shopper with enough money to assemble a warehouse worth of images…)

  • http://nu4ya.posterous.com K.I.A.

    curators are the the DJs of yesteryear… I’m surprised we didn’t start seeing the double-letter signifier “CR Vergne” or “CR Illes” or “CR Birnbaum” (a la “MC” or “DJ”) a few years ago… filters are fine, & necessary re: the needle/haystack conundrum, but what disturbs me is the drift from collector into “curator” or “artist”. prime example: a prominent collector bought lots of teddy bear photos on ebay, framed thousands of them, displayed them, and then got lauded by critics as a visionary or serious artist (rather than as an obsessive internet shopper with enough money to assemble a warehouse worth of images…)

  • http://nu4ya.posterous.com K.I.A.

    curators are the the DJs of yesteryear… I’m surprised we didn’t start seeing the double-letter signifier “CR Vergne” or “CR Illes” or “CR Birnbaum” (a la “MC” or “DJ”) a few years ago… filters are fine, & necessary re: the needle/haystack conundrum, but what disturbs me is the drift from collector into “curator” or “artist”. prime example: a prominent collector bought lots of teddy bear photos on ebay, framed thousands of them, displayed them, and then got lauded by critics as a visionary or serious artist (rather than as an obsessive internet shopper with enough money to assemble a warehouse worth of images…)

  • Gianni Schneider

    C-mon, you said it all. “the idea that an artist can and should spout their ideas to the world without any sort of interference, is kinda hilarious”. That’s not “authority” but clarity of voice. When is writing ever collaborative? You mean having an editor? The role of an editor is not comparable to that of a curator in what we’re describing. Editors wouldn’t really give the bare bones of a plot for writers to “write about”… and wouldn’t be necessarily the ones determining what constitutes contemporary writing to a larger public as curators do with exhibitions.

    What you seem to be describing is the relationship of putting together a show with a curator which is of course collaborative. What we seem to be describing is a somewhat bigger picture where curators increasingly determine the content and context of exhibitions.

    What we’re describing, I think, is a dynamic where artists are accessories to events. It’s not an issue of “interference” or “filter”.

  • Gianni Schneider

    C-mon, you said it all. “the idea that an artist can and should spout their ideas to the world without any sort of interference, is kinda hilarious”. That’s not “authority” but clarity of voice. When is writing ever collaborative? You mean having an editor? The role of an editor is not comparable to that of a curator in what we’re describing. Editors wouldn’t really give the bare bones of a plot for writers to “write about”… and wouldn’t be necessarily the ones determining what constitutes contemporary writing to a larger public as curators do with exhibitions.

    What you seem to be describing is the relationship of putting together a show with a curator which is of course collaborative. What we seem to be describing is a somewhat bigger picture where curators increasingly determine the content and context of exhibitions.

    What we’re describing, I think, is a dynamic where artists are accessories to events. It’s not an issue of “interference” or “filter”.

  • http://www.jessepatrickmartin.blogspot.com Jesse P. Martin

    Vidokle presents multiple interpretations of the roles of curators/curation, and makes an already misunderstood, ill-defined term/profession/noun/verb appear all the more problematic (which it is). He then seems to throw his hands up at trying to define what curators do (but not after some thorough analysis), ultimately leaving this figuring-out to curators themselves — with the caveat that they “do not undercut the sovereignty of artists” amidst this suggested soul-searching. Vidokle reasserts that an artist’s “sovereignty” is paramount to any curatorial schema, and that artists must “produce the conditions” and “channels of circulation” through which their art will be received. I like that Vidokle appears to flip and implode the roles of curators before doing away with the term to place the sole responsibility of producing/circulating art/meaning on artists themselves. I don’t know if this should be considered a “pure state,” though it certainly is idealistic to charge artists with such (seemingly) daunting roles.

  • http://www.jessepatrickmartin.blogspot.com Jesse P. Martin

    Vidokle presents multiple interpretations of the roles of curators/curation, and makes an already misunderstood, ill-defined term/profession/noun/verb appear all the more problematic (which it is). He then seems to throw his hands up at trying to define what curators do (but not after some thorough analysis), ultimately leaving this figuring-out to curators themselves — with the caveat that they “do not undercut the sovereignty of artists” amidst this suggested soul-searching. Vidokle reasserts that an artist’s “sovereignty” is paramount to any curatorial schema, and that artists must “produce the conditions” and “channels of circulation” through which their art will be received. I like that Vidokle appears to flip and implode the roles of curators before doing away with the term to place the sole responsibility of producing/circulating art/meaning on artists themselves. I don’t know if this should be considered a “pure state,” though it certainly is idealistic to charge artists with such (seemingly) daunting roles.

  • http://www.jessepatrickmartin.blogspot.com Jesse P. Martin

    Vidokle presents multiple interpretations of the roles of curators/curation, and makes an already misunderstood, ill-defined term/profession/noun/verb appear all the more problematic (which it is). He then seems to throw his hands up at trying to define what curators do (but not after some thorough analysis), ultimately leaving this figuring-out to curators themselves — with the caveat that they “do not undercut the sovereignty of artists” amidst this suggested soul-searching. Vidokle reasserts that an artist’s “sovereignty” is paramount to any curatorial schema, and that artists must “produce the conditions” and “channels of circulation” through which their art will be received. I like that Vidokle appears to flip and implode the roles of curators before doing away with the term to place the sole responsibility of producing/circulating art/meaning on artists themselves. I don’t know if this should be considered a “pure state,” though it certainly is idealistic to charge artists with such (seemingly) daunting roles.

  • http://www.artfagcity.com Art Fag City

    @Jesse P. Martin I wish there was greater dialogue between Dieter Roelstraete’s Ten Tentative Tenets and this piece because I have the sense that the nebulous definitions and network he talks about connect to the expanding role of the curator. After all, it’s not just the curator who’s role is expanding, it’s that of the artist. I can’t help but think that the issue has less to do with who’s conceiving and executing the production side of things, but where the power lies in these relationships.

  • http://www.artfagcity.com Art Fag City

    @Jesse P. Martin I wish there was greater dialogue between Dieter Roelstraete’s Ten Tentative Tenets and this piece because I have the sense that the nebulous definitions and network he talks about connect to the expanding role of the curator. After all, it’s not just the curator who’s role is expanding, it’s that of the artist. I can’t help but think that the issue has less to do with who’s conceiving and executing the production side of things, but where the power lies in these relationships.

  • collinlafleche

    I think curators have more power today because artists have given it to them. At least artists of my (young) age. There is more interest in the work being seen than the work itself–see the many, many, many “living room shows” that have been happening over the past few years. Most of them don’t amount to much other than being a show in the most basic definition of the term, but they legitimize the art and the artists and so that’s the goal. This is itself probably a product of art school, but art school’s been around a long time so that’s a whole other subject…

    I think as a result the general quality of new art has decreased rapidly (this too is due to other factors, of course), and so you’re left with two main options for large, curated shows: 1) lots of new work, most of which is untested and maybe not good, is pulled together to create a show that is greater than the sum of its parts (Younger Than Jesus comes to mind, although I thought that show was bad); 2) lots of old, established works, that have not been seen together before, and quite possibly have little to do with each other, but are gathered and, in a similar way, the show is greater than the sum of its parts (Skin Fruit comes to mind).

  • collinlafleche

    I think curators have more power today because artists have given it to them. At least artists of my (young) age. There is more interest in the work being seen than the work itself–see the many, many, many “living room shows” that have been happening over the past few years. Most of them don’t amount to much other than being a show in the most basic definition of the term, but they legitimize the art and the artists and so that’s the goal. This is itself probably a product of art school, but art school’s been around a long time so that’s a whole other subject…

    I think as a result the general quality of new art has decreased rapidly (this too is due to other factors, of course), and so you’re left with two main options for large, curated shows: 1) lots of new work, most of which is untested and maybe not good, is pulled together to create a show that is greater than the sum of its parts (Younger Than Jesus comes to mind, although I thought that show was bad); 2) lots of old, established works, that have not been seen together before, and quite possibly have little to do with each other, but are gathered and, in a similar way, the show is greater than the sum of its parts (Skin Fruit comes to mind).

  • collinlafleche

    I think curators have more power today because artists have given it to them. At least artists of my (young) age. There is more interest in the work being seen than the work itself–see the many, many, many “living room shows” that have been happening over the past few years. Most of them don’t amount to much other than being a show in the most basic definition of the term, but they legitimize the art and the artists and so that’s the goal. This is itself probably a product of art school, but art school’s been around a long time so that’s a whole other subject…

    I think as a result the general quality of new art has decreased rapidly (this too is due to other factors, of course), and so you’re left with two main options for large, curated shows: 1) lots of new work, most of which is untested and maybe not good, is pulled together to create a show that is greater than the sum of its parts (Younger Than Jesus comes to mind, although I thought that show was bad); 2) lots of old, established works, that have not been seen together before, and quite possibly have little to do with each other, but are gathered and, in a similar way, the show is greater than the sum of its parts (Skin Fruit comes to mind).

  • Rob Myers

    Curators are the obvious way for managerialism to infect the artworld as it has infected the rest of society. The rise in the curator’s opinion of their own importance is just a reflection of CEO culture.

    The best attack vector on this isn’t to point out that curators can’t paint but to point out who’s holding the rug they’re standing on. It would be fun to do this in art in a way that made it appealing curation-fodder.

    And blahblahblah Duchamp blahblahblah.

  • Rob Myers

    Curators are the obvious way for managerialism to infect the artworld as it has infected the rest of society. The rise in the curator’s opinion of their own importance is just a reflection of CEO culture.

    The best attack vector on this isn’t to point out that curators can’t paint but to point out who’s holding the rug they’re standing on. It would be fun to do this in art in a way that made it appealing curation-fodder.

    And blahblahblah Duchamp blahblahblah.

  • Rob Myers

    Curators are the obvious way for managerialism to infect the artworld as it has infected the rest of society. The rise in the curator’s opinion of their own importance is just a reflection of CEO culture.

    The best attack vector on this isn’t to point out that curators can’t paint but to point out who’s holding the rug they’re standing on. It would be fun to do this in art in a way that made it appealing curation-fodder.

    And blahblahblah Duchamp blahblahblah.

  • http://www.dennisdalesandro.com/dennis_dalesandro/artist.html mustached

    I think that over-curation is a big problem. It’s best to experience artworks in rawer less thought-out and neatly predefined contexts. It’s like the curators selfishly discover the raw/fresh art and then claim it intellectually and just repackage it for everybody else. Everybody should be able to experience the cutting edge on the cutting edge instead of separated and tagged. The lure of art is that it may strike some deeply personal chord ect,,, which is sometimes impossible if the professionals have already defined it. I guess I’m talking about the critics too… This is a superfluous post
    for a fairly superfluous conversation. Just make art! Whatever happens after that… well there you go! If every curator disappeared tomorrow, artists would still rule the world.

  • http://www.dennisdalesandro.com/dennis_dalesandro/artist.html mustached

    I think that over-curation is a big problem. It’s best to experience artworks in rawer less thought-out and neatly predefined contexts. It’s like the curators selfishly discover the raw/fresh art and then claim it intellectually and just repackage it for everybody else. Everybody should be able to experience the cutting edge on the cutting edge instead of separated and tagged. The lure of art is that it may strike some deeply personal chord ect,,, which is sometimes impossible if the professionals have already defined it. I guess I’m talking about the critics too… This is a superfluous post
    for a fairly superfluous conversation. Just make art! Whatever happens after that… well there you go! If every curator disappeared tomorrow, artists would still rule the world.

  • http://www.dennisdalesandro.com/dennis_dalesandro/artist.html mustached

    I think that over-curation is a big problem. It’s best to experience artworks in rawer less thought-out and neatly predefined contexts. It’s like the curators selfishly discover the raw/fresh art and then claim it intellectually and just repackage it for everybody else. Everybody should be able to experience the cutting edge on the cutting edge instead of separated and tagged. The lure of art is that it may strike some deeply personal chord ect,,, which is sometimes impossible if the professionals have already defined it. I guess I’m talking about the critics too… This is a superfluous post
    for a fairly superfluous conversation. Just make art! Whatever happens after that… well there you go! If every curator disappeared tomorrow, artists would still rule the world.

  • Pingback: Leading Off: Unearthing a Doc, Master Snapshooters, and the Rise of the Curator | FrontRow()

  • http://preenart.blogspot.com/ Kerry L.Cox

    I would very much like to think that a seasoned viewer would not fall prey to some the issues Vidokle’s concerns raise. Wouldn’t you be able to distinguish between the sound of the artist’s voice and the sound of the curator’s? Taking an artist’s work far outside of its intended context to satisfy some imaginary blockbuster concept is irresponsible. It hints at an agenda that is the opposite of positive for the advancement of contemporary art. In today’s culture, it seems that we are completely saturated with imagery and with people telling the public that they are authorities on what to make of it. The internet means everyone can do anything. As we’ve said here, everyone can be a “curator” – artists, independants, critics, (and increasingly) members of the commercial art world – this can be dangerous territory for someone outside the art world or a coming-of-age “art professional” (for lack of a better term) to navigate. Rather than seeing whose voice is the loudest and most valid, the viewers (and of course collectors) will ultimately be defined as the interpreters of Vidokle’s definition of “sovereignty” in the end. Perhaps we should be concerned with “Who is the viewer?” and “How have they learned to see work and exhibitions?” because a show where the artists become “actors” to “illustrate curatorial concepts” should never even get through the door.

  • http://preenart.blogspot.com/ Kerry L.Cox

    I would very much like to think that a seasoned viewer would not fall prey to some the issues Vidokle’s concerns raise. Wouldn’t you be able to distinguish between the sound of the artist’s voice and the sound of the curator’s? Taking an artist’s work far outside of its intended context to satisfy some imaginary blockbuster concept is irresponsible. It hints at an agenda that is the opposite of positive for the advancement of contemporary art. In today’s culture, it seems that we are completely saturated with imagery and with people telling the public that they are authorities on what to make of it. The internet means everyone can do anything. As we’ve said here, everyone can be a “curator” – artists, independants, critics, (and increasingly) members of the commercial art world – this can be dangerous territory for someone outside the art world or a coming-of-age “art professional” (for lack of a better term) to navigate. Rather than seeing whose voice is the loudest and most valid, the viewers (and of course collectors) will ultimately be defined as the interpreters of Vidokle’s definition of “sovereignty” in the end. Perhaps we should be concerned with “Who is the viewer?” and “How have they learned to see work and exhibitions?” because a show where the artists become “actors” to “illustrate curatorial concepts” should never even get through the door.

  • http://preenart.blogspot.com/ Kerry L.Cox

    I would very much like to think that a seasoned viewer would not fall prey to some the issues Vidokle’s concerns raise. Wouldn’t you be able to distinguish between the sound of the artist’s voice and the sound of the curator’s? Taking an artist’s work far outside of its intended context to satisfy some imaginary blockbuster concept is irresponsible. It hints at an agenda that is the opposite of positive for the advancement of contemporary art. In today’s culture, it seems that we are completely saturated with imagery and with people telling the public that they are authorities on what to make of it. The internet means everyone can do anything. As we’ve said here, everyone can be a “curator” – artists, independants, critics, (and increasingly) members of the commercial art world – this can be dangerous territory for someone outside the art world or a coming-of-age “art professional” (for lack of a better term) to navigate. Rather than seeing whose voice is the loudest and most valid, the viewers (and of course collectors) will ultimately be defined as the interpreters of Vidokle’s definition of “sovereignty” in the end. Perhaps we should be concerned with “Who is the viewer?” and “How have they learned to see work and exhibitions?” because a show where the artists become “actors” to “illustrate curatorial concepts” should never even get through the door.

  • http://c-monster.net c-mon

    but there seems to be an underlying assumption that the artist’s voice, on its own, is somehow always better or more pure. whereas 1) i don’t know if that’s always the case and 2) if that’s even possible.

  • http://c-monster.net c-mon

    but there seems to be an underlying assumption that the artist’s voice, on its own, is somehow always better or more pure. whereas 1) i don’t know if that’s always the case and 2) if that’s even possible.

  • http://c-monster.net c-mon

    but there seems to be an underlying assumption that the artist’s voice, on its own, is somehow always better or more pure. whereas 1) i don’t know if that’s always the case and 2) if that’s even possible.

  • http://www.artfagcity.com Art Fag City

    @c-mon The artist’s voice isn’t necessarily better, but it is the root source of intentionality, and in that respect “more pure”.

    I know this is a generalization, but IMO a sizable portion of the contemporary art world is currently more interested in the motivation behind an art work than the product itself. This places an increased importance on the artist’s voice, and offers some insight on why Vidokle suggests caution.

  • http://www.artfagcity.com Art Fag City

    @c-mon The artist’s voice isn’t necessarily better, but it is the root source of intentionality, and in that respect “more pure”.

    I know this is a generalization, but IMO a sizable portion of the contemporary art world is currently more interested in the motivation behind an art work than the product itself. This places an increased importance on the artist’s voice, and offers some insight on why Vidokle suggests caution.

  • http://www.artfagcity.com Art Fag City

    @c-mon The artist’s voice isn’t necessarily better, but it is the root source of intentionality, and in that respect “more pure”.

    I know this is a generalization, but IMO a sizable portion of the contemporary art world is currently more interested in the motivation behind an art work than the product itself. This places an increased importance on the artist’s voice, and offers some insight on why Vidokle suggests caution.

  • Emily

    @Art Fag City Apologies for the defensive reaction. The article makes some good points, and will certainly be the catalyst for more than one compelling conversation, but the tone is fairly contemptuous of curatorial work as a whole. I agree with much of the general critique, but, as a devotee of conceptual art, I have serious problems with the expression “sovereignty of the artist.” Here’s another article apropos the increasingly porous definition of curatorial practice. http://www.aam-us.org/pubs/mn/newspin.cfm

  • Emily

    @Art Fag City Apologies for the defensive reaction. The article makes some good points, and will certainly be the catalyst for more than one compelling conversation, but the tone is fairly contemptuous of curatorial work as a whole. I agree with much of the general critique, but, as a devotee of conceptual art, I have serious problems with the expression “sovereignty of the artist.” Here’s another article apropos the increasingly porous definition of curatorial practice. http://www.aam-us.org/pubs/mn/newspin.cfm

  • Emily

    @Art Fag City Apologies for the defensive reaction. The article makes some good points, and will certainly be the catalyst for more than one compelling conversation, but the tone is fairly contemptuous of curatorial work as a whole. I agree with much of the general critique, but, as a devotee of conceptual art, I have serious problems with the expression “sovereignty of the artist.” Here’s another article apropos the increasingly porous definition of curatorial practice. http://www.aam-us.org/pubs/mn/newspin.cfm

  • http://www.artfagcity.com Art Fag City

    @Emily Out of curiosity, what aspect of your dedication to conceptual art prompts pause when you read the expression “sovereignty of the artist”.

  • http://www.artfagcity.com Art Fag City

    @Emily Out of curiosity, what aspect of your dedication to conceptual art prompts pause when you read the expression “sovereignty of the artist”.

  • http://www.jessepatrickmartin.blogspot.com Jesse P. Martin

    @AFC: Roelstraete’s “Ten Tentative Tenets” is a startling essay. After reading it and keeping Vidokle’s text in mind, ostensibly liberatory terms like “sovereignty” and “connectivity” begin to take on much darker implications. The “unmooredness” of everything bespeaks a “network” of conditions where meaning, in all of its noisy incarnations, can never find solid ground. Most curators aren’t helping to rein in meaning any better than the artists they endeavor to represent, and artists aren’t necessarily doing any better. Whether artists are “losing ground” to curators is beside the point: the “ground” is what’s lost, and how/if it can be recovered remains to be seen.

    @c-mon: I agree that any discussion of “purity,” particularly when it comes to discussing art/artists, is beyond “hilarious.” As for the “artist’s voice”: taken literally, Abramovic has at least reinvigorated the notion that an artist NOT speaking can be infinitely more effective then when they do.

  • http://www.jessepatrickmartin.blogspot.com Jesse P. Martin

    @AFC: Roelstraete’s “Ten Tentative Tenets” is a startling essay. After reading it and keeping Vidokle’s text in mind, ostensibly liberatory terms like “sovereignty” and “connectivity” begin to take on much darker implications. The “unmooredness” of everything bespeaks a “network” of conditions where meaning, in all of its noisy incarnations, can never find solid ground. Most curators aren’t helping to rein in meaning any better than the artists they endeavor to represent, and artists aren’t necessarily doing any better. Whether artists are “losing ground” to curators is beside the point: the “ground” is what’s lost, and how/if it can be recovered remains to be seen.

    @c-mon: I agree that any discussion of “purity,” particularly when it comes to discussing art/artists, is beyond “hilarious.” As for the “artist’s voice”: taken literally, Abramovic has at least reinvigorated the notion that an artist NOT speaking can be infinitely more effective then when they do.

  • http://nicholasknight.net Nick

    @AFC: If the intentionality is so important, what do we even need the art for? All of this conversation about “pure voice” and curators mucking up the gears of art assumes that artworks transparently mean something, until some malevolent curatorial power muddies up the waters by “instrumentalizing” the artwork in service of some nasty agenda. But what the artist says the work means doesn’t amount to a hill of beans. All the ways it can be understood (and more importantly, misunderstood!) by the audience (however we define that) is up to that audience.

    In case Emily doesn’t answer, I’ll offer my own reason for pause. “Sovereignty” suggests that the artwork would be legible outside the system (not just commercial, but intellectual and historical) that it exists within. It can challenge that system (it damn well better) but the myth of the lone heroic genius “just making art” has been quite happily punctured, I’d venture. Conceptual Art put this realization at the forefront, but it’s no less true for anyone working today, whether they accept it or not.

  • http://nicholasknight.net Nick

    @AFC: If the intentionality is so important, what do we even need the art for? All of this conversation about “pure voice” and curators mucking up the gears of art assumes that artworks transparently mean something, until some malevolent curatorial power muddies up the waters by “instrumentalizing” the artwork in service of some nasty agenda. But what the artist says the work means doesn’t amount to a hill of beans. All the ways it can be understood (and more importantly, misunderstood!) by the audience (however we define that) is up to that audience.

    In case Emily doesn’t answer, I’ll offer my own reason for pause. “Sovereignty” suggests that the artwork would be legible outside the system (not just commercial, but intellectual and historical) that it exists within. It can challenge that system (it damn well better) but the myth of the lone heroic genius “just making art” has been quite happily punctured, I’d venture. Conceptual Art put this realization at the forefront, but it’s no less true for anyone working today, whether they accept it or not.

  • http://nicholasknight.net Nick

    @AFC: If the intentionality is so important, what do we even need the art for? All of this conversation about “pure voice” and curators mucking up the gears of art assumes that artworks transparently mean something, until some malevolent curatorial power muddies up the waters by “instrumentalizing” the artwork in service of some nasty agenda. But what the artist says the work means doesn’t amount to a hill of beans. All the ways it can be understood (and more importantly, misunderstood!) by the audience (however we define that) is up to that audience.

    In case Emily doesn’t answer, I’ll offer my own reason for pause. “Sovereignty” suggests that the artwork would be legible outside the system (not just commercial, but intellectual and historical) that it exists within. It can challenge that system (it damn well better) but the myth of the lone heroic genius “just making art” has been quite happily punctured, I’d venture. Conceptual Art put this realization at the forefront, but it’s no less true for anyone working today, whether they accept it or not.

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  • Emily

    I guess I was thinking primarily of conceptual art projects that exist as a set of instructions that could be realized by anyone. This is usually read as a rejection of authorship. Also, the historical (and Marxist) avant-garde was based on the idea of ending artistic sovereignty, which would be transferred from the artist to the entire populace through the sublation of art into everyday life. Sublation comes from the German word Aufheben, which means “to abolish,” “to preserve,” “to transcend.”

  • Emily

    I guess I was thinking primarily of conceptual art projects that exist as a set of instructions that could be realized by anyone. This is usually read as a rejection of authorship. Also, the historical (and Marxist) avant-garde was based on the idea of ending artistic sovereignty, which would be transferred from the artist to the entire populace through the sublation of art into everyday life. Sublation comes from the German word Aufheben, which means “to abolish,” “to preserve,” “to transcend.”

  • Emily

    I guess I was thinking primarily of conceptual art projects that exist as a set of instructions that could be realized by anyone. This is usually read as a rejection of authorship. Also, the historical (and Marxist) avant-garde was based on the idea of ending artistic sovereignty, which would be transferred from the artist to the entire populace through the sublation of art into everyday life. Sublation comes from the German word Aufheben, which means “to abolish,” “to preserve,” “to transcend.”

  • http://www.artfagcity.com Art Fag City

    @Nick What the artist says about the work means a hell of a lot more than a hill of beans: An artist can very clearly evaluate if their objectives are being met by the reaction of the viewer. A critic can evaluate if the artist’s objectives are being met, and if it matters to them. I just don’t see that as dispensable information.

    @Emily I think I need to read your book.

  • http://www.artfagcity.com Art Fag City

    @Nick What the artist says about the work means a hell of a lot more than a hill of beans: An artist can very clearly evaluate if their objectives are being met by the reaction of the viewer. A critic can evaluate if the artist’s objectives are being met, and if it matters to them. I just don’t see that as dispensable information.

    @Emily I think I need to read your book.

  • http://www.joannemattera.blogspot.com Joanne Mattera

    @ Paddy: I totally agree with you: ” . . .the professionals I admire most see the artist as the first authority on the subject.”

    But your full disclosure needed to appear at the opening of your piece, not at the end.

  • http://www.joannemattera.blogspot.com Joanne Mattera

    @ Paddy: I totally agree with you: ” . . .the professionals I admire most see the artist as the first authority on the subject.”

    But your full disclosure needed to appear at the opening of your piece, not at the end.

  • http://nicholasknight.net Nick

    @AFC: I feel that the artist has a real (ethical) responsibility to produce work in good faith, in a deep effort to be clear to themselves and to their audience as to what the work is getting at.

    But when I think about the way I, as a viewer, encounter the VAST majority of the artworks I see, it’s disconnected from any source of information OTHER THAN THE WORK ITSELF that could inform me about those intentions. If my take away doesn’t agree with the artist’s intentions then that doesn’t make my experience invalid. And then if I go and tell my friend about how great so-and-so is, and how the work is really relevant because of reasons X, Y, and Z, then that misunderstanding has just entered the world as a form of meaning. I would claim that this process (in the abstract! No one actually listens to me.) is the dominant way that ideas about work circulate in the world. And the artist’s intentions are deeply estranged from it. And that’s okay.

  • http://nicholasknight.net Nick

    @AFC: I feel that the artist has a real (ethical) responsibility to produce work in good faith, in a deep effort to be clear to themselves and to their audience as to what the work is getting at.

    But when I think about the way I, as a viewer, encounter the VAST majority of the artworks I see, it’s disconnected from any source of information OTHER THAN THE WORK ITSELF that could inform me about those intentions. If my take away doesn’t agree with the artist’s intentions then that doesn’t make my experience invalid. And then if I go and tell my friend about how great so-and-so is, and how the work is really relevant because of reasons X, Y, and Z, then that misunderstanding has just entered the world as a form of meaning. I would claim that this process (in the abstract! No one actually listens to me.) is the dominant way that ideas about work circulate in the world. And the artist’s intentions are deeply estranged from it. And that’s okay.

  • http://nicholasknight.net Nick

    @AFC: I feel that the artist has a real (ethical) responsibility to produce work in good faith, in a deep effort to be clear to themselves and to their audience as to what the work is getting at.

    But when I think about the way I, as a viewer, encounter the VAST majority of the artworks I see, it’s disconnected from any source of information OTHER THAN THE WORK ITSELF that could inform me about those intentions. If my take away doesn’t agree with the artist’s intentions then that doesn’t make my experience invalid. And then if I go and tell my friend about how great so-and-so is, and how the work is really relevant because of reasons X, Y, and Z, then that misunderstanding has just entered the world as a form of meaning. I would claim that this process (in the abstract! No one actually listens to me.) is the dominant way that ideas about work circulate in the world. And the artist’s intentions are deeply estranged from it. And that’s okay.

  • http://www.artfagcity.com Art Fag City

    @joanne All disclosures on this blog appear at the end of posts not at the beginning. This post reflects the standard formatting of the blog, and isn’t going to change unless the subject of the post is also a sponsor. e-flux is not.

  • http://www.artfagcity.com Art Fag City

    @joanne All disclosures on this blog appear at the end of posts not at the beginning. This post reflects the standard formatting of the blog, and isn’t going to change unless the subject of the post is also a sponsor. e-flux is not.

  • http://www.artfagcity.com Art Fag City

    @joanne All disclosures on this blog appear at the end of posts not at the beginning. This post reflects the standard formatting of the blog, and isn’t going to change unless the subject of the post is also a sponsor. e-flux is not.

  • http://www.wh2.splinder.com luca rossi

    he container and who runs it become important, they “go beyond the limits” and “edit”, exactly because directors and linkers are needed to go and search for a lost sense, a lost meaning. These two curators are modern Indiana Jones looking for Sense. Bonami and Robin are our heroes. They have to revitalize a proposal that is linguistically locked up and limited
    Here is the reason of the sense of Whitehouse, then, and the opportunity to really play with the pieces, to create an automaton whose role is absolutely indefinite, shifting between being an artist, a curator, a visitor, an absent-minded observer, a collector, an owner of an art gallery, a critic, a blogger, etc. This is a more human and fluid role that, besides diverging, can bring forward a better dialogue with the exasperated and diversified reality where we live.

    http://wh2.splinder.com/post/21874547/2010-bonami-robin-and-him

  • http://www.wh2.splinder.com luca rossi

    he container and who runs it become important, they “go beyond the limits” and “edit”, exactly because directors and linkers are needed to go and search for a lost sense, a lost meaning. These two curators are modern Indiana Jones looking for Sense. Bonami and Robin are our heroes. They have to revitalize a proposal that is linguistically locked up and limited
    Here is the reason of the sense of Whitehouse, then, and the opportunity to really play with the pieces, to create an automaton whose role is absolutely indefinite, shifting between being an artist, a curator, a visitor, an absent-minded observer, a collector, an owner of an art gallery, a critic, a blogger, etc. This is a more human and fluid role that, besides diverging, can bring forward a better dialogue with the exasperated and diversified reality where we live.

    http://wh2.splinder.com/post/21874547/2010-bonami-robin-and-him

  • http://www.wh2.splinder.com luca rossi

    he container and who runs it become important, they “go beyond the limits” and “edit”, exactly because directors and linkers are needed to go and search for a lost sense, a lost meaning. These two curators are modern Indiana Jones looking for Sense. Bonami and Robin are our heroes. They have to revitalize a proposal that is linguistically locked up and limited
    Here is the reason of the sense of Whitehouse, then, and the opportunity to really play with the pieces, to create an automaton whose role is absolutely indefinite, shifting between being an artist, a curator, a visitor, an absent-minded observer, a collector, an owner of an art gallery, a critic, a blogger, etc. This is a more human and fluid role that, besides diverging, can bring forward a better dialogue with the exasperated and diversified reality where we live.

    http://wh2.splinder.com/post/21874547/2010-bonami-robin-and-him

  • http://twitter.com/photoflounder Flounder Lee

    I know I’m months late to this conversation, but I’d just like to add that, as an artist, curator, and professor, I can see many sides to this debate. One of the things I constantly tell my students that seems to somewhat disagree with Paddy’s assessment of artist’s intention is that when you put artwork into the world, it no longer belongs to you. Your intent is only the first of many interpretations that can all be equally valid. Maybe the other interpretations are “wrong” from the point of view of what you intended, but they are not wrong in that art is suppose to bring a dialog, not be strictly didactic and most often not preachy.

    Curators can do a good job of interpreting work and helping artists and the public see connections that are going on inside an artists work as well as between disparate artists’ practices. They can also get in the way and make connections that are so loose as to be pointless.

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