Thursday, January 13, 2011

Correspondences: fifth in a series of posts from Michael Turner

With the Are Curators Unprofessional? symposium behind us, I would like to turn to the question of the visual art curator in relation to other media. Are there equivalents? And if so, are they as varied within their mediums as curation is to the visual arts?

Consider the book editor. In big house publishing, the book editor is in charge of all manner of book production, from manuscript acquisition to design to promotion. Some editors spend most of their time on acquisitions, while many more work underneath them, doing the heavy lifting, occasionally acquiring books of their own. Some editors, such as Nan Talese and Phyllis Bruce, have their own eponymous imprints. At smaller houses (Book Thug, New Star), the editor is often the publisher, a dual role that has both its strengths and its weaknesses.

The musical equivalent of the curator is the record producer, usually a free-lancer hired by a label to oversee an audio recording, not just the laying down of tracks but also the selection and arrangement of those tracks. In big label recording, the producer is often there to “break” a new act, or help an established act change direction. Some producers, such as George Martin and Phil Spector, have their own sound, and their names figure prominently on the package. For those acts without means, label support or an interest in working with others, production is done within the act itself.

In the visual arts, the curator is responsible for the exhibition, which includes selecting the work, helping with its production, installation, writing, animation and promotion. Some curators, such as Hans Ulrich Obrist, fly around the world mounting hundreds of shows a year, while others, if not working underneath them, are employed at small art spaces (Artspeak, White Columns), which they have been known to direct as well.

Given the expansion of the contemporary art experience, where film (Douglas Gordon), music (Janet Cardiff), dance (Yvonne Rainer) and writing (Liam Gillick) are no longer out of place at galleries and museums, and where the medium is often the material, one could consider curation a meta-profession. Which brings us to this site, a site that features video, music and writing. Is its founder a curator? I asked the question of another blogger, who himself has a literary background, and he would have none of it. He found the word “pretentious.” I asked him what he thought “curation” meant, but again, he would have none of it.


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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