Curating: Is it a form of art?


A few days ago a friend asked me to view his blog. He then sent me a link to his tumblr, a website where most people who use it reblog images from others with very little of their own original content. To this I replied that I didn’t see tumblr as blogging as the subject matter is not usually innovative to the person who has just re-blogged it from someone else. However, my friend retorted with: ‘I see curatorship as a form of art.’ This got my thinking about the curators of galleries and exhibitions: are they artists in their own right?

We live in an age today of the ‘super-curator.’ Names such as Hans Ulrich Obrist and Okwui Enwezor are just as recognisable as contemporary artists. They are in high demand across the globe, being flown from city to city to host exhibitions and biennials. Curators are those in charge of arranging exhibitions, they act as the stylists of the art world. Especially in situations where the artist whose work on display is dead, it is worth noting that it is the singly the curator who has command over how an exhibition is presented.

The word ‘curator’ has origins in late Middle English, Old French and Latin, meaning to care. While the role of a curator is to support the artist in their exhibitions, like the artist, their role is also visual, choosing where and how a work is hung, the colour of the walls, and issues surrounding wall text. Unlike gallerists who are chiefly concerned with financial issues, the curator’s job is chiefly aesthetic.

When an exhibition is a success the curator often receives just as much praise as the artist. However, with their visual contribution seemingly secondary to the artwork on display are they artists too? Curators are not solely presenters of art and compilers of temporary exhibitions. Many are attached to institutions, being in charge of over-seeing the care of permanent collections. These curators often have a background in art history and not only present young, new art, but preserve art’s heritage too. In this way many compile books and contribute chapters to literature in order to do so, something that a lot of artist’s don’t do.

After a quick google search into post-graduate degrees in curation, half were MA degrees with the other half being MFA, indicating that those teaching the practice themselves are unsure as to where to place the discipline. I have not yet made my mind up as to where to place curation myself, however, with new art forms emerging almost everyday, it is worth considering if curation is one of them.

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Lizzy Vartanian Collier is a London-based writer with a special interest in contemporary Middle Eastern Art. She has a BA in Art History and an MA in Contemporary Art and Art Theory of Asia and Africa from the School of Oriental and African Studies. She runs the Gallery Girl blog and has written for After Nyne, Arteviste, Canvas Magazine, Harper's Bazaar Arabia, Ibraaz, Jdeed Magazine, ReOrient and Suitcase Magazine. Lizzy is also curator of Arab Women Artists Now - AWAN 2018 (London).

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