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Reflections on Curatorship and Art


Currently, the work of curators is somewhat controversial, many artists and art enthusiasts sustain a love/hate relationship with it.

Since remote times, the expertise and responsible hand of a person who protects, studies and spreads human creations has been necessary to human development. Curare, Latin verb which “cure” derives from, refers to safekeeping something, looking after it. In Ancient Rome there were a large number of different curatores who were in charge of acquiring clothes and food for the sovereign, of safekeeping the city’s money and even of cleaning and making sure the gutters and aqueducts worked correctly.

The closest historical reference that resembles the curatorial practice, which is currently carried out in institutions related to culture and the arts, was the work of the guardians of religious images, mainly from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance. In modern times “curator”, as a term, is has been appropriated by areas such as science and the Internet. In systematic biology for example, the curator is in charge of the collection of specimens that will be needed in the lab. From the beginning of the 21st century the role of contents’ curators has gained strength, and it now widely used to describe someone who is in charge of classifying, ordering, conserving and spreading quality digital contents in a specific area of interest found on the Net.

Art curatorship is an important job within museums, galleries and collections. The role of the curator, which is highly valued throughout cultural industry, even though it is equally criticized by artists, scholars and the general public. The multiple tasks this artistic professional carries out range from conservatorship, museography, research, business, promotions and diffusion of art. Curators play a creative role and are constant dialogue with all those involved, from auction houses to museums, collectors, artists and governments.

Due to the great variety of tasks they carry out, the liberties they can take are ample and range from designating what works as art and what does not, to decided who will exhibit their work in the most renowned museums and galleries. Many believe that the work of the curator is overvalued and many others think it is of the utmost importance. One of the most celebrated curators of our time is Swiss Hans Ulrich Obrist, director of the Serpentine Gallery’s international projects. Recently, during an interview with The Guardian, Obrist points out the four principle axes that a curator performs: collection and work conservatorship, selection of new pieces, connecting with history of art and exhibition organizing. The article says that “behind every great artist there is a great curator”, but it is important to reflect who is behind every great curator.

Orbist speaks of the curator as an advisor, motivator and a friend to artists who must pay attention to their finished projects and to those that are not yet made; he is the creative companion that knows what is best for the artists’ careers, work and exhibitions. He is also the ally of several institutions who will benefit from his knowledge, contacts and project. The audience who attends the exhibitions also enjoys the work of the curators, in charge of creating a liaison between the history hanging on the walls and hallways of the museums. Undoubtedly, the work of the curator is a relevant element, but if we remember that art is a deep, great and primal characteristic of humankind, then neither history, neither artists, nor institutions or curators are art.

Art is a necessity, a mystery, a concern of our species which feeds off of passion, creativity, desire, thought, play and everything related to being human. Nothing more, nothing less.

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