2005-04-29 / Columnists

From The Artists Studio

Rockaway Artists Alliance

We’ve all seen the wall texts at exhibitions in museums and galleries that say “Curated by…” Have you ever wondered what a curator actually does? Are you curious about the training, experience and academic credentials necessary to become a curator? This and following column(s) will answer your questions. This week’s column will discuss what a curator does.

The exact duties of a curator may vary according to the size, nature, resources and mission of the institution. According to the College Art Association, however, those duties generally can include: the care and interpretation of artworks that are lent to or belong to the institution; making recommendations for acquisition or purchase of works; researching the history or backgrounds of the works; judging their quality and where relevant, their authenticity; working with conservators to ensure the safety and conservation, if necessary, of the works; collaboration with the institution’s educators to determine methods of presentation to the public; conceiving, developing and organizing exhibitions, which includes developing and presenting their rationale and narratives; choosing the works appropriate for the concept of the exhibit and the mission, size and resources of the museum or gallery; developing budgets; writing the grant proposal in a small organization, or project descriptions in a large one; putting out calls for submissions; writing the catalogue, wall texts and labels; planning the exhibit’s layout, order, pacing, groupings and emphasis; securing objects for loan; arranging other venues when appropriate; collaborating with other staff members on the installation design, education programs (if any), outreach, publicity and marketing. Duties may also include the development and dissemination of collection and program information, background materials and providing intellectual rationales to other departments such as the education department; fundraising and the cultivation of donors and patrons. As stated, these tasks are not necessarily relevant to all exhibition venues. For example, the Metropolitan Museum of Art doesn’t put out a call for artists for a 19th century Impressionist exhibition. Artists Space is a non-profit alternative space that presents only temporary exhibitions and doesn’t have a permanent collection requiring purchase and gifting.

A curator may work for a large, small or medium-sized museum. Curators, especially at large museums, may specialize in a particular area of expertise, such as drawings, photography or contemporary sculpture, for example. He or she may work at a university museum or a private, commercial, non-profit or corporate gallery. A curator of contemporary art may work at a museum or gallery of contemporary art or at alternative spaces. There are a large number of independent curators who freelance at exhibition spaces. An independent curator may be invited in by an exhibition venue or may conceive of a show, find an exhibition space, raise the funding on his/her own or collaboratively with the venue, solicit the artist(s) and organize the show.

Independent curator Randy Sommer, in an interview with Kathy Chenoweth, equates being a curator with being an assemblagist. The role is to take other artists’ work and create something, a discussion. In the same article Jan Tumlir states that the curator is the most powerful artist in the show, creating one piece out of many – bringing together a group of people with different agendas and making them conform to one basic idea; creating a context that was not there before and causing the work to be viewed in a new way. Curators of contemporary art must always be aware of what is new on the scene and what will attract and stimulate an audience. They attend galleries and museums to view new work and compare it to what they have seen before in order to keep abreast of what is fresh. They frequently visit artists’ studios, nationally and even internationally, to have an immediate contact with and feedback from the artists. In an interview for TheArtBiz.com and NYFA Interactive, Lawrence Rinder of The Whitney Museum stated that he is interested in work that “feels compelling and urgent for the artist to make” and “compelling and urgent to be seen in our contemporary moment.” Art, he says, is a means of reading the culture — it takes place in a social, political and economic context. Therefore he needs to be cognizant of what is happening in the world. Sue Spaid attempts to respond to ideas and concepts that are current, that haven’t been explored before or haven’t been explored in depth. Erin Barnett of the Guggenheim in her interview with The Art Biz.com and NYFA Interactive, said that her museum wants to put on exhibits that present a new approach to a topic or a new interpretation of an artist or theme, giving an audience something they haven’t seen before.

Gallery Happenings:

Two more weekends remain to see Immersed in Watercolor: The Art of M. Elliott Killian at sTudio 6 Gallery, Fort Tilden. The collection of over 50 works presents a wide scope of scenes including the Rockaways, Fort Tilden, Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge, Long Island and out of state locations. The print raffle of “Riis Park Clock” continues until the winner’s ticket is picked on May 8 at 2 p.m. in sTudio 6. Admission is free. Gallery hours: Saturdays 12-5 p.m.; Sundays 1-4 p.m.

A Mixable Feast, Geoff Rawling’s solo exhibition featuring A Month of Sundays of delicious events begins Sunday, May 1 with A Breakfast of Champignons: a mélange of mixed media, mushroom delicacies and “fungi music” featuring Indaculture and The Gnomen. 11 a.m. start at sTudio 7.

“Clock At Riis Park,” by M.Elliott Killian, to be auctioned off on May 8.

So, You Want To Be A Curator?

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