by Federico FERRARI Translated and reviewed by Michela ALESSANDRINI Previously published in Chiara Bertola’s “Curare l’arte ” (Electa Mondadori, 2008), this text has deeply influenced my approach to curating. I consider it a remarkable contribution and I am therefore delighted to translate and bring it to a new focus. Within the debate about curatorial subjects (which seems to be of the utmost popularity nowadays), to propose a critical and, somehow, cynical text like the present one is a way to make – a point and suggest a direction. There is a certain haste in revisiting these writings, today as much as there was five years ago, as we need to bring to attention opinions from those who prefer to claim art and artists’ centrality, instead of self-celebration. I would like this reviewed translation to be considered as an attempt to prioritise on curating’s essential concerns, the possibility of a spark for a new starting point. A constructive critique, applied to an austere and apocalyptic manifesto. A selection of intentions, from a text which seems to be dangerously contemporary.
interestingly, the curator is defined by a non-curator in this text, whereas the increase in publications by curators about curating seems to be at a standstill. especially when, as massimiliano gioni states – again in chiara bertola’s book – “it is as if doctors only spoke about themselves, instead of attending meetings and publishing books about diseases”.
how does an artist approach a curator, wheterwith professional or human intentions (or both, hopefully) ? let us think about the role of a standard artist’s website, for example: everything (critiques, definitions, images, reviews, articles, etc.) is ready for re-use by curators and critics, to be exhibited and finally, maybe, sold. there is no place for observation, thought, for the developing of lines of thinking through confrontation. i believe that a criticism of the fast art system’s cycle of needs should be detailed, with a particular focus on the role that the intellectual reflection can still play in such a context.
is the curator an obstacle? ferrari speaks about a subjugated artist and a mediating, infiltrating, oppressing curator: without generalizing, is it possible that the craved curator’s professionalization has become a cage, an oppressing and forced step on the artist’s way to the exhibition?
the emotional factor in the curator-artist relationship: a collaboration that, in most of the cases, lasts a lifetime and is based on a mutual support. it is not a sentimental mater but rather a “constructive and substantial one”, according to victor misiano.
here begins ferrari’s proposal for a sectorization that tends to put limits curators have tried to bypass for years. which makes sense as it decreases the confusion between each one’s role but, at the same time, represents an infertile castration that could eventually restrict the interactive potential between the different voices of the art world.
he curator is the twinkling of a spectre that is rapidly dissolving, to finally find itself elsewhere. What the curator has become today is, for several reasons, the farthest possible from the phantom he should embody. If he really wants to understand who he is, then he should just go the farthest possible from himself. The curator should not exist. Museums and Kunsthalle’s director should do what they are paid for, and call the artists, simply and directly. And these latter should ask for their own “comrades” ‘ help. The curator should be, at most, a comrade for the artist, therefore selected by the artist himself (not the contrary, as it happens nowadays). Artists should stop accepting to submit or be submitted by a class of cultural mediators (this is the role of almost every self-styled curator today). The artist should rather reappropriate the centrality of the work and the way of seeing and feeling. And, whenever he/she wants to, he/ she should feel free to establish elective affinities with other artists, intellectuals, other worlds, without the need of any mediation. Great exhibitions are also born this way – the Constable by Freud. The curator should accept the role of “partner” or travel companion for the artists he loves and is loved by – “there is nothing stronger than a love bond”. In doing so, he can then help the artist conceive and organize the exhibition space and the resources it can possibly generate. Otherwise, if he has some other expectations, he should definitely devote to those. If he has critic ambitions, he should really devote himself to an independent and large-scale effort kind of critique. He should actually write critiques, not reviews. Let the journalists do reviews. And, above all, avoid creating a miserable conflict of interest between his role as a reviewer and the exhibitions’ “producer/ creator’s” role. He should also avoid curating exhibitions for collectors. Avoid being
paid by merchants. Avoid signing catalogues of shows he has never even seen. Avoid wri-
ting for newspapers and specialised magazines. Avoid. The curator should free himself from the power his figure is acquiring. He should not put himself up as a manager, on the payroll of finance and politics, irregularly engaging artists in an itinerant show worthy of the most pitiful and drabbest circus. May everyone regain their freedom and their work’s dignity. Let the artist do art, the critic do critique, the journalist spread informations, the merchant do his market, the museum directors give a direction, and the curator do nothing at all – apart from listen and ponder over, and, in this way, he will probably learn who he could have been. The curator should be small and humble. Freed of everything. Back in the studios. There to listen, to observe. Stop blabbing and start being the mouthpiece for others’ thoughts, leave the front stage to others. The curator should be strong enough to say “I am nothing, I have no profession, I have no identity” and perhaps then, he can really be in care of something or someone. Or, even better, something or someone will be able to place themselves in his hands, trusting his listening capabilities, in order to become, finally, what he should have been. The greatest curator is the flâneur : he takes care of every remarkable thing he meets, because he has maintained a kind of candour that allows him to be surprised, always and whenever, by what might be around the corner, where busy people passing by never look. His only gift is paying attention. His sole purpose is to signalize.
an act of desacralizing the curator’s figure is absolutely necessary. that being said, i believe that reducing the curator’s responsibilities to those of a friendly exhibition space designer is extremely constrictive, and frustrating too. a curator is supposed to be the producer and catalyst of different synergies - and, in order to do that, he needs a certain freedom and intellectual authorship, which seems to be excessively re-dimensioned here.
the “thinking” phase is often skipped. it appears as if it has become an unpleasant tendency. the curator is so focused on defining and justifying his status that he eventually dedicates most of his energy to this goal. his (lifeless) exhibitions are affected by the consequences of such priorities: everything is perfectly calculated, but no attention is paid to the artworks’ vulnerability. which is a dangerous lack of sensibility.
this spontaneity has to be protected and trained constantly. it is (or rather, should be) a basic instinct for curators, at the core of their nature of curious intellectuals. to wonder through, be receptive and sensitive, lend an ear, pay attention, never stop moving.
considering the current debate about curating ends up in isolating the figure of the curator and pushes it far away from the subject it should be addressing, that is the art and the artist – especially in its conclusion, ferrari’s text suggests a precious ideas to be definitely reconsidered.
Federico FERRARI was born in Milan on 15th September 1969. He is a European philosopher and art critic. He teaches Philosophy of Art and Phenomenology of Contemporary Arts at Brera Academy of Fine Arts in Milan, where he has founded and coordinated the MA in Visual Cultures and Curatorship. He is correspondent for the Collège International de Philosophie, based in Paris.
Michela ALESSANDRINI was born in 1987 in Tivoli. She obtained a Master’s Degree in History of Contemporary Art at Sapienza University of Rome. After her residency at Labor Guest Space in Budapest during Summer 2012, she participated to Session 22 of Ecole du Magasin (International Curatorial Training Program) in Grenoble. She is currently curator of erg’s gallery in Brussels and will be in residency at Embassy of Foreign Artists in Geneva from January 2014. She is editor of The Portrait Room on Droste Effect Magazine.
This booklet has been produced on the occasion of the exhibition « Des coquilles et des mondes », that runs from november 21st to december 6th, 2013 at erg’s gallery in Brussels. Special thanks to Federico Ferrari, Chiara Bertola, François Roux, Sammy Del Gallo, Alexandra David, Florence Delhaye and Nils Grauerholz.