Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Correspondences: third in a series of posts from Michael Turner

Although Books Sections still exist in some Canadian newspapers, Visual Arts Sections do not. One of the few remaining on staff visual arts newspaper critics in Canada is the Calgary Herald’s Nancy Tousley, who posted her summary of the Are Curators Unprofessional? symposium on her Impressions blog.

One of Nancy’s criticisms concerned a lack of examples regarding artist-curator relations (I had a similar critique of Artspeak/Fillip Magazine’s Judgment and Contemporary Art Criticism Forum of 2009). Perhaps in anticipation of this, symposium organizer Kitty Scott had asked me to research contemporary examples and write them up like I did the “events” in my book 8x10 -- without names, places and times. Kitty’s idea was to have an actor infiltrate the symposium and relate my examples anonymously at the beginning of each panel, or informally, at social outings. As usual, time flew by and money grew scarce, so it was decided that the texts would be projected above, both before and after the sessions. Obviously Nancy missed them.

The five examples I came up with are from museums and galleries in Asia, North America and the UK. The first was based on Japan’s “Tochigi Problem”; the second took place at the Western Front, a Vancouver artist-run centre; the third, at Vancouver’s Contemporary Art Gallery; the fourth, at Mass MOCA; and the fifth, at the Glasgow International. These texts will appear in the symposium publication; but in the meantime, allow me to share with you the first one:

When asked to consider artist-curator relations, who among us imagines more than the artist, the curator and their potential to disagree?

Not so long ago (and not so far away) local artist groups determined the exhibitions at their country’s museums, none of which employed curators or housed collections. Occasionally these museums – “empty museums”, as they have been called -- exhibited work from other regions, but the focus was primarily on local artists, some of whom held high government offices.

With the growth of local artist groups, the country built more museums. Eventually these museums began hiring curators, some of them art historians who had received their training abroad. At first these curators worked quietly, at some remove, but that would change.

When curators began turning their research into exhibitions, adding historical artifact and works from outside their country (in order to make sense of their country and the larger world), local artists groups complained. Resignations followed, as did confusion. During this time relations between artist and curator varied depending on the ambitions of the museum or the local artist group, though mostly it was characterized as artist versus curator.

The emergent relationship between artist and curator had an immediate effect on the way art was produced and displayed in this country. But there were other consequences. While artists influenced by the international modern project were referred to as such by curators, those in pursuit of local historical practices were cast accordingly -- as traditional.
Michael Turner is a Vancouver-based writer of fiction, criticism and song. He tends a blog of his own. If you're still curious you can find more about him here.

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