Curate this!

Recently I received a Starwood Hotels newsletter, The Curator. Its tagline: “Life is a collection of experiences…let us be your guide.” As an aside, life is more than a collection of experiences, isn’t it? But let’s focus on the common use of the word “curator” in a non-art context. Does this cheapen the word, or the professional role?

I’d contend that in culture at large, curate is a usefully bastardized word. It conveys discernment and a personal, idiosyncratic eye. Thanks to institutional associations,  to curate also means to make your eye accessible. Curators like to include us all in their passions, whereas collectors may prefer to enjoy their work privately.

Inside artworld, however, we need to be more careful. We have people who are curators by education, experience and job title. Their training (and temperament) is different from other roles such as artist, dealer or academic. Moreover, the requirements of curation are sometimes at odds with the requirements of other roles such as dealer. Role definition is critical in clarifying how we work together.

Of course it doesn’t help matters that even within the ranks of credentialed curators, the definition is in turmoil (see Terry Smith’s Thinking Contemporary Curating, ICI 2012). But let's try to remember that simply choosing stuff to go into a white box for an exhibition doesn’t make one a curator. We need reserve the noun for those who’ve earned it.

– Theo Downes-Le Guin