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Installation view of When Attitudes Become Form, 1969 at Kunsthalle Bern, Bern, Switzerland
Curated by Harald Szeemann
Artworks of Mario Merz, Robert Morris, Barry Flanagan, Bruce Nauman

Installation view of Art in the Streets, 2011 at Museum of Contemporary Art Los Angeles, Los Angeles
Curated by Jeffrey Deitch, with associate curators Aaron Rose and Roger Gastman
Courtesy of kennyscharf.com

Do you know the origin of the word ‘curator’ is actually from a Latin word ‘cura’ which means ‘to take care of?'' In ancient Rome, the senior officials responsible for various departments of public works were called ‘curatores’ and in the Middle Ages, there was a priest called a ‘curatus’ devoted to caring for the people’s souls.

Since the end of 20th century, a ‘curator’ has become a term describing a wide range of exhibition makers including museums employees/ freelancers and specialists in charge of museums and institutions’ collections and heritage materials. TATE’s definition about curating also includes these two roles and it may be summarized as follows; a) arranging displays of loaned works and works from a collection in a public form b) acquiring/developing a collection of museums/institutions c) interpreting the exhibition and collection in order to inform, educate, and inspire the public.

In a narrow sense, another major role that a curator performs, especially in the area of the contemporary art industry, is to determine how to present artworks in an exhibition (or in other public forms) in a way that corresponds to the spirit of the times and the flow of art history. With an artist(s) or only with artworks without artists (even without both artists and artworks), curators present their subject matters to the public through visual / aesthetic presentations, and it is necessary to convince not only audience also themselves why this exhibition on this subject should be presented at this very moment and they should consider how it inspires the public.

“Today, curating as a profession means at least four things; It means to preserve, in the sense of safe guarding the heritage of art. It means to be the selector of new work. It means to connect to art history and it means displaying or arranging the work. But it’s more than that. The curator sets it up so that it becomes an extraordinary experience and not just illustrations or spatialised books.”

Hans Ulrich Obrist, Artistic Director of Serpentine Galleries

Installation view of do it, 2014 at Garage Museum of Contemporary, Moscow
Co-curated by Snejana Krasteva, Anastasia Mityushina, and Hans Ulrich Obrist
(Albert Oehlen, Instructions To Make A Good Painting, 2012. Photo by Anton Silenin)

Nowadays curators also play the dual capacity, acting as taste-makers and validators. Qualified exhibitions curated by star curators who gain influential positions in the contemporary art industry is always a cynosure of all eyes. In some cases, these curators’ reputation can even eclipse that of the artists they work with, but in many cases, artists who take part in these exhibitions also receive a lot of attention from field experts and art lovers/collectors. It may be the reason why many galleries today invite external curators to their venues and work together to organize exhibitions of their representative artists.

Related categories

Research as Art

Collaboration

Contemporary Social Phenomenon

Introspection / Meditation

Word as Image

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