Who Wants To Be A Curator?

7 Oct 2011
It seems that there is still a gaping hole for these creatures. Here are a few thoughts from courses I’ve attended and shows around Cape Town:

  1. Know that the origins of curating are in a museum context not art criticism, but in South Africa we often end up doing whatever we can to make ends meet.

  2. As curator, you are the link between funders, the museum/gallery/public space, the accountants, the technical team (hanging, lighting, video, Internet link and more – oh, oops, someone stole the computers, but the show must go on) the publishing world, academia, the press and the art-consuming public. Oh, yes, and the artists too!

  3. In these uneducated times it’s really helpful for the curator to ‘take care of the audience’ by giving them the context to access fresh works (without patronizing them…)

  4. Look out for interesting people in the field and ask them. You’d be surprised how approachable they are.
    E.g.
    • Nadja Daehnke(curates Michaelis Gallery) – worked at SANG, curated a strong, small show there called ‘Patriarch’ . Currently you can see her small show of botanical art-plus upstairs at Michaelis – celebrating the botanist ‘Bolus’
    • Virginia McKenny – co-curated Spier, currently ‘Threshold’ at Michaelis (interesting to compare ‘Bolus’ and ‘Threshold’) and GIPCA conference coming up next weekend
    • Kathyrn Smith – fluent in Stellenboscian, Michaelisartschoolese, International Curating and plain English. Claims that a good curator makes the great works make the weaker works look good.
    • Kirsty Cockerill director of AVA – her show at Irma Stern Museum Beguiling: The Self and the Subject was so clever, as a deceptively simple device of pairing contemporary works with Irma’s paintings. Cleverly brought old fuddy-duddy audiences to Stern’s work, and likewise re-introduced younger art-lovers to the expressionist painter. At the same time she had a serious art-historical perspective. This made the exhibition accessible both to school-kids and the cognoscenti.
    • Andrew Lamprecht teaches at Michealis – his lectures on curating are fab. He’s developed his own approach, and says as curator you are in charge of everything from the concept to the lighting, there is no excuse for shoddy displays and you’d better always carry tissues! He has attracted a lot of attention for his handling of the Tretchikoff retrospective, and seems to thrive on controversy.
    • Kadiatou Diallo currently director of Greatmore Studios, was also on the curatorial team for Spier Contemporary and runs an international project called Sparks.
    • The big galleries are sometimes very clever in the way they combine artists thematically in group shows.
    • Riason Naidoo, Director of the National Gallery, got his big break by finding an unknown archive of photo’s of old-school Durban from an Indian perspective. His huge ‘Pierneef to Gugulective’ had mixed reviews. Many of us were thrilled to see so many important works, but wished for more structure. His ‘Random Works?’ was really beautifully hung – each image seemed to speak to the one beside it, and making great conversation.

  5. Documentation seems to be the key to building a career as a curator in the ‘serious’ art world: writing your proposal so that the gallery wants your project, and then writing about the exhibition so that Arthrob, Art Times and Art South Africa understand what you’re up to and review the show.

  6. Focus the exhibition: are you trying to build a young, hip audience (e.g. Spier Contemporary) or attract media attention (e.g. Tretchikoff) or speak to big money collectors, or….what? It’s up to you to work out your own agenda.

Kathryn Smith once quoted that a good exhibition can be likened to a poem, a novel or a film. What kind of art event do we need today? A 5-course feast or a wholesome snack? Sitcom or satire? What would you do?

Janet Ranson is an with an interest in site-specific and interactive public works. Passionate about art education.


For inspiration visit Curated Collections to see how artworks have been grouped (curated) together.