Group exhibitions, the Chicago Tribune reported in December, usually occur during the summer months, when “curators are left to throw a few back-room canvases on a wall and call it an exhibition.” This makes both curators and group shows sound a little pathetic; while everyone is out splashing in the lake, the pale, over-worked curators are dusting off third-tier unsold art works for makeshift exhibitions. The Tribune’s critique of no one in particular reflects a pseudo-boredom with the arts, itself a tired and tiring attitude. But it seems that boredom is widespread, evidenced by the growing amount of correctives for the public disaffection of curators—often by curatorial institutions themselves.
“The public” was invited to help curate an exhibition at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis recently from a kiosk in the museum’s atrium. 183 images, pre-selected by museum curators, were up for vote, which finally (somehow) were turned into an actual exhibition of 200 artworks for “50/50: Audience and Experts Curate the Paper Collection,” on view through mid-July. This attempt to elevate the power of public opinion was a charade: the public was limited to voting on 183 works, which were limited by what was in the museum’s collection.
A more satisfying alternative, which is often used to achieve good effects, is to let a guest curator, often an artist, have run of the vaults and assemble an exhibition reflective of their own unique taste. The Hammer Museum in Los Angeles recently asked Frances Stark to help them with such an exhibition, and the result is a fascinating look at bizarre, funny and beautiful works that may not have any other reason to be released from their storage boxes. What began as “institutional critique,” say, an artist digging through a museum’s archives to uncover the institution’s racial or gender biases, has evolved into the joy of experiencing one person’s curious mind through the museum’s collection.
But don’t let that stop you from doing it yourself. “Your chance to become a curator in 2011,” advertises Coagula Art Journal, is Coagula’s Curator’s College ($350 for nine classes). “Forget theory” is the tagline, in an effort to weed out the geeks, although “aesthetics” is on the agenda. This grassroots curators school is conceived as an antidote to (but just piggybacks on) the new crop of art-school curator colleges, such as CCA in San Francisco and Bard, outside New York City. The success or failure of these new schools is now being seen as freshman classes are graduating. Several graduates are finding jobs in established museums, while others may be in back rooms, masterminding their summer escapes. (Jason Foumberg)