What Art Curators Do? 5 Things Beyond Making Exhibitions
Art Curators have become one of the most popular figures in the art world. Must of the people think of them as “rock stars” who are always attending to social events and having luxury lives. Probably yes, there are some many curators that fix on that definition, but serious and real curators do more than public relations.
There are so many different types of art curators: museum, galleries, archive, educational, academic or freelance curators. Everyone has specific duties, however there are some tasks every art curator must do besides making art exhibitions. Here are at least five key thing that are part of the curatorial practice.
1. Visit Artists’ Studios / Historical Archives
This is perhaps one of the most interesting and funniest activities for a curator. When working with living artists, it is not enough of knowing about their work by doing some research on the internet or books. It is essential to involve with the whole process of artists and get to know directly what artists are working in by visiting their studios and talk to them. This allows curators to delve into the artists interests and topics.
While visiting an artist it is actually part of the research processes for making an exhibition, most of the times curators organize these visits to extend their general view of the art today and tracing ideas for possible exhibitions. In other words, a curator could visit an artist to include it as part of a show that has already been devised, but most importantly, visiting studies could be the first step in imagining exhibitions.
On the other hand, when working with past artists, doing research in historical archives substitutes the studio visits. This is the way to know more about the artist’ work and life, to avoid speculate and having a very subjective approach to an artist you are not able to talk directly anymore.
2. Develop specialized investigations
The base of every curatorial practice is the investigation. There is no way of being curator without get deeply involved with art history and art theory, and even sometimes with other disciplines according to the needs of the project they are working with.
If a curator is working with biology, for instance, the she / he should make research on biology topics in order to develop a well-structured project. Same if working with engineering, archeology, films, etcetera…
In some cases, those investigations became part of editorial projects or educational programs.
3. Create collaboration alliances
We must not forget than two heads are better than one. And most importantly: curators never, never, work alone, even when the lead credit are usually just for them. There are many people involved in the exhibition making, from exhibition designers to quartermaster staff. Without any of these professionals, exhibitions and art projects are not possible.
However, creating alliances does not only respond to the objective of making exhibitions or projects available for the public, but —most importantly— to keeping them alive once they are displayed in a space. The more collaboration networks develop, the more possibilities to expand a project into different ways —as long as those possibilities are related with the intention of the project.
4. Administrative duties
Having a lot of ideas is probably the first step to start a project, but the second one is to organize everything what it needs to make it possible. This work is the boring part of the curatorial practice, also known as the administrative duties. No one else can do this —except if it is a high-budget project to allow having curator’ assistance— except for the curator who knows exactly what it needs to carry the project on.
Administrative duties include: planning budgets (fees for artists, collaborators, general expenses), negotiating loan items (in case the project needs objects belong to other institutions collections), writing bid (to invite artists and collaborations), create a schedule for all the staff and contributors involved, and many more duties according with the project needs.
5. Being public agent
Being a public agent is not the same as doing networking or being a “rock star”. Curatorial practice involves a major responsibility with the audiences as one of their main roles is to create both narratives and stories from artworks and artists practices. In some sense, curators are also translators who expose the multiple ways in which art has seen the world throughout the history of mankind. On the other hand, their projects are usually meant to have an impact in real society. Art will not change the world, that is for certain. However, art always has had an impact in how we understand our realities beyond the common and official narratives.
In this context, curators must be available for having public discussions and dialogues with all kind of professionals as well as public in general. There is no way to expand our understanding of the world other than be open to public opinion.