i have just finished reading A Brief History of Curating by Hans Ulrich Obrist (thanks nic). his concern is that curation may be forgotten and so has conducted eleven extensive interviews with well known curators to help the memory live on. i say well known but part of the curator's role is often to disappear behind their work so i didn't really know the names very well at all.
it's fascinating seeing the themes that surface again and again in different ways in the interviews and with the lens i bring to reading i am looking to scrape off the surface themes that resonate with curation in worship. one of the strongest is negotiating newness in art in the midst of the public, artists, museums, galleries, benefactors and patrons, and the range of institutions and powers at play in the art world. in short the curator is most definitely a negotiator, a middleman or middlewoman even if that wasn't what they signed up for! (sound familiar?)
some curators locate themselves at the independent freelance end of things so they have the creative space to fulfil their vision. they problematise the institutions and the art world and haven't got time for them. so seth siegelaub calls the museum 'a cemetery for art' with its focus on historicisation. and sees no point in working with a museum because of its vested social and structural interests. art institutions can be very detached from artists which ends up being a real problem so why bother with them? in an article i want to come back to in curating subjects it made me smile when okwui enwezor says that the day curators want a permanent job they have reached a threshold! it so sounds like the debates around mission and sustainability and ordination/full time paid or not...
on the other hand there are plenty who managed to take roles inside the museums and used that to negotiate permissions for artists to do amazing things in and around those huge spaces. obrist suggest in questions to curators that a couple of keys to the curators who have managed to create the most impact in and around museums have been their own closeness to artists and their ability to create trust in the interplay between the institution, the public and the artists. without that trust you won't be able to do much but once it's there who knows what can happen? sandberg talked about the courage to run a museum in a non academic experimental way - but you're not going to do that without a lot of graft in building trust.
there have been a couple of significant changes in museums in particular. one was that museums stopped just seeing themselves as showing permanent collections. but warehoused the artworks to create different kinds of themed shows bringing the good stuff out from time to time and showing it in different ways, making different articulations and connections with it. and the second was a shift in some museums seeing themselves as sites for experimentation. at art historians day in 1970 michael diers says that it became clear that museums had to say goodbye to their isolation, to their function as an aesthetic church (!). out of this emerged the idea of the museum as a workshop or laboratory. johannes cladders talked about the museum as a space of risk (which I love). i remember going to an amazing evening at the victoria and albert museum in london with DJs and projections, and an evening of installations in traditional spaces by onedotzero – that definitely had this laboratory feel. i suspect that if you rewound, things used to be a lot more stuffy!
my response to this debate is pretty similar to how i feel about the wonderfully creative mission leaders, improvisers and worship curators who have been part of the emerging church/alternative worship movement that has subverted, shaken, deconstructed and brought newness to the christian faith in the soil of postmodern cultures at the edges and in the heart of the institutions. let's have both and everything inbetween! i love it that there are curators who want to sail off the edge and do things that the institution cannot imagine or permit. and i also love it that there are those who patiently earn trust and negotiate space within the heart of the church. the beauty of the new environment is that it's so easy for those people to connect and share their learning and stories and journey together. can you imagine a cathedral employing a curator to play in their cathedral which they see as a laboratory and a space of risk with a wealth of artworks (theological capital?) that's been warehoused but that the curator can bring out of the cupboard to create new articulations with imagination holding up and subverting the continuity of the tradition? renewal that comes from the centre and the edge