Anne Britt Ylvisåker
USE OR ABUSE – MUSEUMS AND THE CURATING OF CONTEMPORARY ART
In the exhibition "Size Matters" at the Art Museums of Bergen
2011, Morgan Schagerberg's video The City and the Countryside
(2009) was shown in a wall wide screening: The sight of a
picturesque landscape was periodically interrupted by prism
chandeliers dropped and smashed close to the camera lens. Chunks of
glass prisms, randomly located in front of the screen were an
additional part of the artwork. But the huge prism chandeliers,
hanging right in the center of the room and the miniature furniture
positioned just below these came from the museum's collection,
deliberately located in the room by the museum curators.
The visitors did not perceive the distinction between the artwork and the museum objects. They interpreted the video, chandelier and miniature furniture as a coherent installation - and they loved it. Nevertheless, for me this experience led to some reflections:
1. Who was the main artist on this site?
2. What is acceptable curatorial practice in museums?
3. What do museums put at risk by blurring the boundaries between art production and curatorial arrangements?
1. Artist vs. museum curator
Theoretically, there is an obvious distinction between artists vs. museum curators: Artists are responsible for (at least organizing) the making of artworks, while museum curators in turn acquire artworks for museum collections, and occasionally put them on display. In reality the distinction is far less apparent.
For example: Any juxtaposition of artworks and/or objects in a display will unavoidably affect the perception of each of them, just as the nature of space, lighting, etc. The artwork will look slightly different in every show, depending on the curator's dispositions of means - even if the specific artwork is characterized by a fixed substance with clearly defined beginning and end.
The museum may also acquire artistic concepts that exist only as rough recipes, which have to be interpreted and implemented by the museum curator with a large amount of freedom. A specific display relies entirely on the curator's ability to translate the artist's intention.It is not hard to unveil similarities between artistic creativity and curatorial practices. The main difference is perhaps the attitude towards the artwork? Where the artwork is the artist's final destination, it may only serve as a kind of 'raw material' and a means towards the curator's main issues.
2. The a rtist's vs. the museum's agenda
When the museum acquired Schagerberg's video, the purpose was to shed light on its own collection of decorative arts, and their value as cultural heritage. This intention may have been completely off the page to the artist. On the other hand: The art museums' collections are expanded and developed motivated by what
kind of museum one desires to create. Every museum acquisition is customized to a certain collection's profile, and by crossing the museum's threshold the artwork is supposed to fulfill not only the artist's intention, but the expectation of the artwork's new identity as a museum object.Thus, the artist and the museum curator may have differing ideas about the definition of the authentic work, as well as different expectations of how the work should function in the museum context. Is the intention of the artist superior to the museum's - or vice versa?
3. Expectation of roles
Even if the boundaries in certain situations can become blurred and obscure, being an artist and being a curator is basically two distinct positions associated with different responsibilities and expectations.
As a museum curator myself, my - as well as the museum's - authority depends on me making credible decisions of what to include and exclude from collections and exhibitions, based on professional insight and attitude. I my eyes, the curator will undermine this authority and put the whole system at risk if he undertakes the artist's role and loses the artist's intention of sight for the benefit of the museum's. Did the curators of "Size Matters" trespass this border?
Anne Britt Ylvisåker -Senior Curator
Institution: Art Museums of Bergen