Thoughts on the Art of Curation

The artist often has very little control about what context, environment and company their artwork is viewed in. Over the years I’ve come to respect the skills of a good curator, and indeed good art buyers and lovers, who take time and effort over showing artwork at it’s best.

These thoughts have been passing through my head after spending the weekend exhibiting at an art fair. A very particular way of showing work, this environment really showed up how different and overwhelming it is, for artist and viewer, to see so much artwork , so quickly (relatively speaking) and how challenging that can be. Each artist curated their work differently, and of course each stand was itself cheek by jowl with other stands either side and opposite, which may or may not have complemented it. A riot of visual stimulus. How can we see and appreciate meaningfully in this context?

Open studios and arts trails too, though they offer wonderful opportunities to discover emerging artists, have a downside of hit and miss venues, often leaving the visitor fatigued and disappointed (selected arts trails are still a little controversial, as they often eliminate the artists that are the most interesting and varied, making the experience more ‘commercial’, but do exist). A good trail will gently lead the visitor to people and work they like, as well as new discoveries and eccentric studios- a good brochure, guide or app is worth it’s weight in gold. These events tend to attract those who already have some idea of the work they like to see, making the work of the guide or curator somewhat easier.

Which leads me to the other part of the jigsaw- what audience are you showing or hoping to show to? A good curator will know their audience well- the art fair comes out less well on this front, as it attempts to be all things to all people (and possibly no things no any people). Certain audiences self select by having to pay or having the knowledge to attend. Galleries will attract a certain audience who already love art and have some idea of what they like- but are they missing out on new audiences or preaching to the converted?

In the gallery context, the artist often has no control over where their work is hung- I have had work hung under the stairs, next to royalty, celebrity and artists with a very different ‘aesthetic’ to me (this may work to my advantage- or not!) Again the viewers gaze is manipulated- it’s up to the gallerist or curator to manipulate well! To view artist work seperately, mixed, juxtaposed or to immerse the viewer in another world? These are the choices of the curator.

Viewing work online offers the artist some degree of control (though often quality of images can be problematic) and the artists website or shop can be a way for the fan or art lover to enter into that particular artist’s world. Increasingly artists use their own shop window creatively, making it work for them.

So, perhaps, despite the plethora of ways to for the artist to show their work directly, there is still a place for the thoughtful, passionate gallerist and the creative, hard-working artist. Both these roles enable viewers to really ‘see’ clearly and feel meaning about what they’re seeing.

I still have a long way to go with my curation skills- but you can see my current work here.

A wonderful work of art in itself is artist Carola Kastmans’s Instagram account (@carola_kastman) where she places her artwork with images and little films of her life and environment, beautifully placing it all in context.

My favourite website currently is lauramenzies.co.uk for curated series of work.

Tincleton Gallery always curate and select work well and have restored my faith in the gallery context- but I am biased as they hold my work! You’ll find them huddled in Dorset countryside or at their website- tincletongallery.com

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