Thursday, October 15, 2009

The curator’s egg

Here in New Zealand the role of art curator has had its ups and downs over the last decade or so. In that time we’ve lost a couple of good ones with Robert Leonard and Greg Burke heading off-shore, but we’ve also seen a shift away from male curators ruling the roost. In fact women are rapidly taking over the business both as curators and directors and changing both. Museum directors (or CEOs or managers or whatever) who saw curating exhibitions as part of the job, such a feature of the seventies, eighties and into the nineties, have faded away. Sure, some of them like to take the title of ‘managing curator’ or some such but you can tell their hearts aren’t in it.

The status of curating has also been chipped away at by the Te Papa's separation of curators from crucial execution through exhibition design, installation, label writing, marketing and communication. No wonder many young curators question where they and their ideas fit into the exhibition development process, and how far away from significant decision-making they have drifted.

Outside the museum world the idea of curating has become fashionable as a catch-all description of the ability to put stuff together in an interesting way. In an article on ‘outsider curating’, the NYT (come on guys, the NZ Listener did this story back in December 2006) sums up the new world of curating with the words of lexicographer Jesse Sheidlower, “If all the rival nightclub promoters are ‘curating’ parties you don’t want to be the ones left ‘hosting’ them'.”