Nov 3, 2009

The criteria of curating


Fridericianum - site of Documenta (link)

I went to a presentation at CCA by Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev, curator for the next Documenta. Erudite. Talented. Charming. Her talk made my blood boil. Carolyn claimed that she does not "select" artists for her shows. She repeatedly rejected that word. "Addition" she said, "I work through a process of addition, not selection." She said she adds artists in a way that is very chance driven, through random encounters that would lead her to work. Her shows, she claimed, were formed in this happenstance of accumulation.

I appreciated Christov-Bakargiev's effort to distance curating from the image of an all-knowing judge who selects the best work with a kind of pre-planned foresight, like a scientist performing selective breeding. But her model of chance-based addition presents its own problems. The word "add" is suffused with positivity. It glosses the unavoidable: the calculus of curating is far more subtraction than addition, since there is always less space than art. Curating inevitably involves rejecting some artists that would otherwise fit because there are other artists who otherwise fit... in other words, selection. The word "add" projects mathematical neutrality, not the shopper adding products to their shopping basket. And the idea of a curator of Documenta who "randomly" discovers artists struck me as very optimistic about the neutrality of chance. Invite a curator to your art school, pay a stipend, and see if the curator perhaps randomly meets some of your MFA students.

I left the talk hungry for criteria for curating that escape the toxicity of pluralism, without resorting to Iron Chef. Then I remembered that I'm an artist. Thank goodness I don't have to worry about that.