Contest, Context, Content

The Curators Battle is a pretty direct title for an experimental concept event. The Grimmuseum hosted two curators, Carson Chan and Aaron Moulton, who each organized separate shows in adjacent galleries, pulling work from the same artists. For added drama, there was a vote to choose the better show. At it’s best, forcing the audience to consider the behind the scenes development of an art show illuminates the relationship between the curator’s established context and the art’s content, instead of potentially taking the creative duties of the curator for granted.

The Curators Battle, A Choreographed Coincidence. Installation Image. © Laura Gianetti

In both shows, however, I felt that the curators’ hands were so significantly foregrounded that the artists and artworks became ancillary figures. In both Stronger Magic and A Choreographed Coincidence (the two shows presented), the art was overshadowed by how the spaces were organized. The first actually overlapped wall space for works; one drawing was partially lit by a piece involving an intermittent, direct light. The second seems to  purposefully break most gallery conventions (eg. hanging artworks too high or too low, displaying framed drawings leaning against a pedestal, occasionally using non-traditional lighting). The tactics felt arbitrary, as if any piece could stand in the place of any other in a multitude of combinations.

The Curators Battle, Stronger Magic Installation Image. © Laura Gianetti

The non-hierarchical structure of the internet and other systems of organization are cited directly and indirectly in curatorial statements and the work itself, throwing the notion of context into question. The curators treated themselves as assemblage artists, and the art as found objects. Particularly in Stronger Magic, a show that was mainly lit by just one art piece that turned on and off, each individual work became one genericized element in a large installation. The content of the individual works was presented as being barely important, as detailed pieces were only given seconds of decent lighting with which to view them.

The Curators Battle, Stronger Magic. Installation Image. © Laura Gianetti

My concern as an artist, is that the intentions of the artist and the context for understanding their work may have been overlooked in lieu of treating the work as innocuous content for the curators to control and manipulate as justification for their central theses. Something about this felt like misquoting in the way a sound bite from a politician may be extracted without necessary context to influence the speech’s meaning. Viewing images of the event’s photostream, where works were photographed individually, offers each piece it’s own space to establish context within it’s own content. That necessary space was missing live in this ‘Curate-Off’.

As a final note I’ll mention Constant Dullaart, one of the stand-outs in both shows. Check out Poser, a video-based sculpture currently in A Choreographed Coincidence.