Curator, Writer, and Museum Administrator

Books for Curators

"Ice Cream: Contemporary Art in Culture"

Ice Cream: Contemporary Art in Culture

Ice Cream: Contemporary Art in Culture

This book is the fourth in the Cream series of publications by Phaidon in which 10 "hot" curators pick 10 "hot" artists each to write about. Titles include Cream in 1998, Fresh Cream in 2000, Cream 3 in 2003, Ice Cream in 2007 and forthcoming Creamier due July 2010. Because I am at times insecure and snarky, it behooves me to make fun of these coffee-table tomes as being rather cheesy (no lactose pun intended.) Although I will admit to loving the book's iridescent cover as when I lay it on my desk it beckons people from across the hall. 

But to be honest, the curators represented are remarkable for their careers and intelligence. I'm not going to comment here on the artists they chose since many others have done so. What I'm interested in is the dialogue, which was conducted via the Internet and forms the introductory essay in 2007's Ice Cream.  The participating curators are Sergio Edelsztein, Jens Hoffmann, Lisette Lagnado, Midori Matsui, Shamim M. Momin, Pi Li, Gloria Sutton, Olesya Turkina, Philippe Vergne, and The Wrong Gallery, represented by artist Maurizio Cattelan, and the curators Massimiliano Gioni and Ali Subotnick. If you click on the Amazon link and scroll down, you'll see short write-ups on what these folks were doing circa 2007, as several have moved on to other jobs and exhibition. 

The discussion begins with an examination of what curating means today and quickly gets into old models (curator as invisible advocate—Massimiliano Gioni) versus new (curator as instigator and possibly an artistic equal—Jens Hoffmann). Gioni begins, saying "At their best, curators should be somehow invisible; they should be present, reliable, and yet step back and disappear." This is a sentiment I agree within my own practice, but several, including others in this dialogue, do not. Later on Gioni rightly clarifies, "As curators we're committed to the artists but we're in the service of institutions. Even the most independent of us work for someone—a museum, a collection, a foundation, an exhibition or a gallery."

Meanwhile Hoffmann takes an opposite stance, that "'s curators who have contributed to art to effect greater change in the art world than artists ... My voice in making an exhibition is equally important as that of the artist." Hoffmann compares being a curator to Foucault's notion of the author, whereas Gioni responds he thinks of a curator more as a reader, which I thought was a nice metaphor.

In fact, Gioni makes several observations that I considered as being right on target, including when the discussion, at Hoffmann's suggestion, moves into a critique of the art market, and Gioni chimes in, "We might try to oppose the market, or to think of ourselves as outside the market, but—to be completely cynical and pessimistic—we tend to be a function of the market even when opposing it." It appears I'm becoming a Gioni fan as I recall favoring his interview in Carolee Thea's 

On Curating

 (see my review below).

There are several other great "nuggets" that come out of this conversation, such as when Gloria Sutton makes the acute observation that in some cases curators act more as endorsers than artistic partners. As is the case with 

Ice Cream,

 curators can be filters "making a value judgment at the same time conferring value."Olesya Turkina, a curator in Russia, provides this wonderful bit of information, that until 


 the word "curator" referred to "KGB agents in the Soviet Union who were appointed to follow non-official artists and movements." Later on, Lisette Lagnado offers the following puzzling comment: "I can recognize a 'real' artist (different from people who are merely eager to be artists) through a meeting, a dinner, a conversation in a bar, a studio visit. We exchange different viewpoints that are not necessarily related to art, but also to ethics, politics, humor, children."  Part of me wonders (hopes) she means something other than what she wrote, which suggests she has her own filter to determine the sincerity or validity of an artist.

Shamim M. Momin sounds frustrated in the final comments, pointing out the apologetic and yet defensive tone of some of the previous posts. She writes, "The curator wants both to be attributed to the power and position we rightfully claim, but also to play a game of victimization—of what is 'being done' to our practice by the market." That's a great statement and one that I think sums up the sentiments particularly of institutional curators over the past two decades or so when our ranks have been thinned (see how easily I fall into the "victim" role??) 

    Lastly, the best quote comes from the artist Maurizio Cattelan, who at the time was co-running the Wrong Gallery with Gioni and 

Subotnick. Cattelan pops into the discussion in mid-flow and says, "I feel a bit intimidated entering this conversation, and a bit out of place. ... I wonder why every conversation between curators starts off with the definition of the role of the curator. Is this paranoia, insecurity or guilt? Why can't we just forget about it and talk about art, or artists, or things that we've seen and want to discuss and exchange and get passionate about."


Elizabeth Schlatter