The term artist-as-curator is so often bandied about at panel discussions and artist talks these days that it is clear the art community feels comfortable with this notion. We've seen the impact of the artist-as-curator from the days of the Salons des Refusés right up to today's respective local artist-led spaces, self-organised exhibitions. Artists are continually taking on the responsibility for not only the art-making but for all the ancillary administrative requirements of organising an exhibition. To date the role of the curator has often been seen, in a traditional sense, as a project manager, an administrator, or to take the word literally from the Latin, curare, as one who "takes care" of exhibitions or collections: a supporter. But, how do we see the role of the curator in contemporary practice? Do we still see it maintaining the traditional supporting role of the producer or facilitator or does the role stand up in its own right as an author or an artist? Are we not yet au fait with the idea of the curator-as-artist?
Artists collaborating with curators as equal contributors to an exhibition has become increasingly common in contemporary practice. This in itself raises some pertinent questions regarding identity, authorship, homogeneity and the overall role of the contemporary artist and curator as we see it. Although the notion of collaboration in the arts is by no means new, it is certainly becoming increasingly prevalent. Artists have forever been comfortable working closely with their peers on projects, but the challenges expected from the artist/artist-curator relationship can be very different. Part of Visual Artists Ireland's “survival guide for visual artists”, is a series of articles on “The Trinity of The Artist, The Gallery, & The Curator”, which aim to outline and define these roles. Amongst this collection of articles, along with term definitions and how-to's, is a piece by writer Sarah Pierce entitled “With Practicality Comes a Practice: The Artist as Curator”1 Pierce references the artist-curator as:
“an individual whose practice exists in an expanded field, where the radical reworkings of presentation, exhibition, display, and installation are fundamental to the practice of being an artist.”
This reference certainly goes a long way to defining what the artist-as-curator may be, for some not enough, yet for some too much. While, it is said that there may a resentment out there, not very different from the feelings artists once harbored towards art critics, toward the“reworkings” of an artists work, the notion of the curator as a narrator of another artist's work is a predominant one. This artist/curator dichotomy is ever prevalent when a curators voice supersedes the work of the exhibiting artists often rendering artists and artworks to merely actors and props for illustrating curatorial concepts. Many curators are now finding themselves questioning the boundaries of their involvement in the aesthetic and conceptual production of exhibitions with egalitarian terms like “cultural producer” being introduced into the conversation.2 In a 2010 e-flux article by Anton Vidokle entitled “Art Without Artists”3, he argues that “we should be very careful to avoid assigning any kind of meta-artistic capacity to curatorial practice”.
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 but rather to collaborate with the work, or indeed the makers, as artists themselves. The collaboration itself should exist as a separate and distinctive entity. The outcome, in other words, can’t be owned” by any one member of the group. Creative Science author, Keith Sawyer speaks to the creative power of such collaborations in his writings: “If you have a group of artists working together... even if you know everything they’ve ever done in the past, they get together and something new emerges.”4
2Michelle White and Nato Thompson, “Curator as Producer,”Art Lies, no. 59 (Fall 2008)
4 Sawyer, R. Keith, Group Genius: the Creative Power of Collaboration, Basic Books, 2007
The Up Market Down Turn ¦ Fat Cats Vs Starving Artists
Published in Occupy Paper Issue 7 - 2012
With Ireland’s taxes and unemployment on the rise and our toxic debts now amounting to a humiliating €67.5 billion to international lenders it’s fair to say the credit crunch is finally hitting home. But with whispers of living-room gigs, squat-parties, guerrilla galleries and slack-space projects erupting in contemporary art circles is it fair to say that Ireland’s creative practitioners are finding opportunity in the financial crisis wreckage? Is Crash Art the new High Art?
Ever since the “Recessional Aesthetics” talk headed by art historians Hal Foster and David Joselit at the X Initiative in New York in 2009 these questions have been of hot debate. Foster suggested that the downturn would make it clearer that artists, artworks, fairs, art schools and journals had already been “commodified”, and that there now exists the possibility for shaping a kind of liberating post-market existence. Fitting as it was to have the talk in the not-for-profit space housed in the four-storey Chelsea warehouse that was once home to DIA Centre for the arts, the initiative has since closed having only lasted one year. But what a year it was, since it opened its doors in March 2009 it housed 12 exhibitions and more than 50 events, with an attendance of over 75,000 visitors and even received an honourable mention in the best of 2009 articles by The New York Times art critics Holland Cotter and Roberta Smith.1
I spoke with Doreen Carvajal, from The New York Times preceding her recent article “In Ireland, Making Art From the Rubble” 2 published last month. She told me that she was interested in writing about Ireland’s “Generation Bailout”. She barraged me with questions about current art initiatives in Ireland and whether they were only existing due to the opportunities arisen from the economic downturn. She mentioned some students in Dublin who had found opportunity in the “wreckage left by a spree of reckless real-estate lending.” Upon reading the article afterwards I realised of course that she was talking about Basic Space, an open creative space for NCAD students based just behind Vicar Street in Dublin. The owner of the building, developer Harry Crosbie, is one of more than 800 Irish developers who owe more than €70 billion in real-estate debt to the notorious NAMA. The space itself is a 10,000 square-foot warehouse “with very few limitations”.
These industrial spaces, however, are cropping up all over the Island, located in former warehouses and offices. Avant-garde project spaces take form in venues like The Docks Shed, which inhabits the middle pier of Galway City Harbour and Sample-Studios located across three floors of the former FÁS/Government Building on Sullivan’s Quay in Cork City. Tommy Barker’s article “Think Outside the Box On Empty Spaces” published in last year’s Examiner1 highlighted this phenomenon. Barker mentioned Cork’s Triskel Arts Centre, who while temporarily displaced in 2010, took over the old ESB station on Caroline Street, and subsequently colonised the beautiful Christchurch building on South Main Street to even better effect and gain after receiving substantial European funding. It seems the industrial settings of these projects are a deliberate and healthy deconstruction of the white cube institution that contemporary art has become enshrouded in, but surely it is an inadvertent reality due to the inherent commercial architecture of slack-spaces.
We cannot argue that the current situation hasn’t provided new opportunities for artists to produce and display their art. This however carries certain expectations; how long can it really last? Even the infamous Künstlerinitiative Tacheles sadly met their downfall last April when the owner of the Kunsthaus, HSH Nordbank scheduled an eviction. This notorious, Berlin art squat with its bar, gallery, restaurant and cinema, was helping to attract more than 300,000 tourists a year. Tacheles and many of Berlin's other squats started life when the Wall came down and Easterners fled crumbling buildings. But previous owners the Fundus Group investment firm, which owned the building since the mid-1990s, reportedly ran out of cash and as the negotiated 10-year lease with the artists, with rent set at 50 cents a year, expired, Fundus sold to the highest bidder, HSH Nordbank, and so the dream ended.
So what is the effect of the current economic climate on the position and function of artist run spaces? Dublin and Cork City Council among other councils across Ireland have brought in a rates relief scheme entitled “The Vacant Property Initiative for the Arts”, aimed to support local arts and culture. Under this policy the councils are prepared to apply a discretionary reduction on commercial rates to premises which are occupied, on a not-for-profit basis, by groups and individuals involved in arts and cultural activity at the current vacant property reduction rate of 50%. But what are the effects of these short term supports versus a need for sustainability in the arts? What happens when Ireland (if ever) regains financial stability? Dare we mention an economic upturn as we are in the depths of this current turmoil? We simply cannot ignore the implications of the ongoing changes in social trends and general lack of public policies addressing contemporary art practices. Are these practitioners now supposed to have a duty to society having benefited from the probable sole redeeming quality of the economic downturn? With themes of engagement and social responsibility on critics lips,
Is it time for the artists to give back?