The notion of the curator as artist is not new. In his editorial preface to curatorial studies journal The Exhibitionist, Jens Hoffman pays tribute to Cahiers du Cinema. In the 1950s, André Bazin and François Truffaut advocated, in that publication, the notion that film ultimately reflects the director’s individual viewpoint and creative vision, rather than that of the production team or the studio backing it. In Hoffman’s vision, the curator’s value system and taste surpass institutions and individual works to constitute the core of the exhibition.
One thing is certain: when institutional criticism becomes a universal truth, when the juggernauts of biennials take the eastern winds of globalization worldwide, we pay more attention to curators with clear personalities and motivations. From Harald Szeemann, who called himself a contemporary exhibition maker, to Marcia Tucker, the unorthodox founder of the New Museum, and Klaus Biesenbach, who took charge of MoMA PS1 when it seemed besieged—now that artists have become celebrities, what is to stop curators from being touched by stardom? “Curator” has its roots in “cura,” to heal or take care. Boris Groys holds that art is waiting to be rescued by the gaze of the masses, and that curators are the saviors responsible for bringing it from the shadows of the studio into the bright light of day. The basic mission of the curator to act as middleman between artist and public, easily neglected by curators looking for novelty.
Today it is no longer enough for an artist to concentrate on making art and a curator to plan exhibitions. Books on curatorial theory are bestsellers in museum bookstores; curators are described as directors, anthropologists, conductors, translators, educators, and activists; exhibitions are treated as libraries, cinemas, archaeological sites, ecological laboratories, non-places, and social factories. Contemporary curators no longer think about what to exhibit; the question is how to exhibit. Nor are artists standing idly by—they swap roles with curators. If art is a field of experimentation and a stage for those pursuing the dream of total art, artists and curators are now in the same boat.
Text by Zhang Hanlu
Translated by Vanessa Nolan