Critic Vs Curator

George Bellows, Stag At Sharkeys, 1909
George Bellows, Stag At Sharkeys, 1909

“The real problem with the art world is not the money men scavenging in its wake – they’ve always been there – but the pirates who’ve taken over the ship. I am thinking of course of that awful art world species: the curator.”- Waldemar Januszczak

Grayson Perry has caused an almighty fight within the art world. The flamboyant, Turner Prize winning artist has turned himself into a kind of social commentator of late and has taken aim squarely at the art establishment.  In his recent BBC Reith lecture at the Tate, Perry has set out his aim of demystifying the art world and the secret process in which objects are deemed to be ‘gallery worthy’. Perry declared that he wants to equip the general public with the tools to become more confident to talk about and judge art without feeling like their opinions are invalid. Perry spoke of how the public only views art in galleries which has been through a secretive process which deems it ‘special enough’ to be displayed. Taste makers filter what we are allowed to consume, effectively. There are many high profile instances where certain artists are deemed ‘unworthy’ of gallery display by certain members of the art elite ( Jack Vettriano has recently been compared to Tom Jones- ‘bold, brassy and devoid of inner truth’, despite being wildly popular with the public). Perry’s comments and Deborah Orr’s subsequent article have appeared to rankle Waldemar Januszczak who wrote to the Guardian to air his grievances. In his view it is not the big spending billionaire patrons who are the taste makers and the gate keepers to the art gallery, but the curators. Januszczak says that when he started writing about art there were no curators and now ” they go to the same biennales; speak the same meaningless art language; and control the art world from within by privileging their creativity ahead of the artist’s.”

Hmm. Isn’t that art critics?

Art critics are a dying breed, the internet has seen to that. Now everyone’s a critic, literally. The internet is for opinions, from blogs to twitter updates, everyone has a platform to air their opinions. People are more likely to go to an event or exhibition on the recommendation of a friend on facebook than they are that of a newspaper columnist. Art critics are drowning in an ever expanding sea of opinions. I started this blog because I wanted to write about the art I love and the art I don’t. These are my opinions and  I do not expect people to agree with each one. What makes the internet unique is that it you can find people who share your opinions and people who do not. The days of art critics being held up as the arbiters of taste are over. However, curators are still relevant. To curate is to collect, display ,to interpret. According to Januszczak “someone out there needs to overthrow the Tate empire”.

Whereas the gulf between the public and critics seems to be widening, the gulf between curators, their galleries, and the public is shrinking. Public opinion is holding much more weight in art establishments these days. Take the recent Tate exhibitions; the Lowry exhibition follows a long public campaign to display his work in the Tate, the ever popular David Hockney’s exhibition at the Royal Academy was a roaring success as was the Hirst Tate retrospective. People vote with their feet and galleries know that.  Januszczak’s suggestion that artists should self curate brings its own problems. What of all the artists who cannot curate their own exhibitions? Should we lose retrospectives of dead artists? What of travelling exhibitions? An artist would not have a full understanding of each gallery space as an in-house curator would. In an ideal world every artist would have complete artistic control over their art, but it is generally an unworkable idea.

“I agree that contemporary art may not be simple to understand, but if it is presented in the right way people can enjoy a lot.”- David Elliot- curator



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