The necessity of going “beyond the making of exhibitions” should not become a justification for the work of curators to supersede the work of artists, nor a reinforcement of authorial claims that render artists and artworks merely actors and props for illustrating curatorial concepts. Movement in such a direction runs a serious risk of diminishing the space of art by undermining the agency of its producers: artists.
This unease has been mounting for some time. In 2006, From the Floor’s Todd Gibson wrote a post which criticized the contextualization of the Wrong Gallery’s curation of the Whitney’ collection as an artistic endeavor within the museum’s Biennial. Gibson goes on to complain about a particularly juvenile project by Biennial curators Chrissie Iles of the Whitney and Philippe Vergne of the Walker, in which they invented an imaginary friend to validate their labor while they’ve been working on the show.
My reaction when reading this piece again ran something along the lines of, “well, as long as curators continue to prove their ineptitude at making art that the artist’s position of art maker is secure.” It’s a fair response, though it fails to acknowledge the expanding role of the curator as a larger cultural trend; witness the rash of articles on the subject the Times, Tomorrow Museum, and myself amongst them. Everyone’s a curator, because if there’s one thing the internerds want more of, it’s people to direct us to the stuff we already like.
But I digress from Vidokle’s article, which later posits that the expanding role of the curator poses a few risks for the artist. After all not every artist wants a collaborator and there is a sense that there’s sometimes more of this than is needed.
If there is to be critical art, the role of the artist as a sovereign agent must be maintained. By sovereignty, I mean simply certain conditions of production in which artists are able to determine the direction of their work, its subject matter and form, and the methodologies they use—rather than having them dictated by institutions, critics, curators, academics, collectors, dealers, the public, and so forth.
YES. And later,
It has recently been pointed out to me that as artistic production becomes increasingly deskilled—and, by extension, less identifiable by publics as art when placed outside the exhibition environment—exhibitions themselves become the singular context through which art can be made visible as art. This alone makes it easy to understand why so many now think that inclusion in an exhibition produces art, rather than artists themselves. But this is a completely wrong approach in my opinion: what most urgently needs to be done is to further expand the space of art by developing new circulation networks through which art can encounter its publics—through education, publication, dissemination, and so forth—rather than perpetuate existing institutions of art and their agents at the expense of the agency of artists by immortalizing the exhibition as art's only possible, ultimate destination.
This sounds like a manifesto to me. Vidokle founded e-flux, e-flux journal, UnitedNationsPlaza, Museum as Hub and more. He’s not just talking about what he thinks should be done, he’s doing it.
Full disclosure: I am involved in a soon to be announced Vidokle project.