Thursday, November 24, 2016

The Failure of Curatorial Thematic and the Contextual Works of Art

(Mrinalini Mukherjee's work in a curated show- for representational purpose only)

Of late I have been thinking a lot about the contradictions involved in the thematic curatorial projects. When a curator plans out a road map for a thematic curatorial project, he/she considers a series of factors, right from accommodating the funder/gallery’s interest in it to the possible ideas pertaining to thematic of the project that the artists could conjure up. The curator approaches a set of artists with a theme mainly for three reasons; First one is the ideal case, that the curator knows that the artist whom he is approaching has been doing the kind of works that could fit into the thematic frame work of the project. Second reason is more practical, that the curator knows that these are the artists who are the properties of the season and roping them in would help the project to get a good visibility and economic mileage. The third and final reason is more authoritative from the curator’s part that as he knows that the artists would respond to his curatorial call. I find all these three are a bit haphazard as far as the very idea of art creation goes.

Before going into the matter further, let me confess that I have done all these three types and perhaps still continuing to do so due to various circumstantial and professional reasons, however, I feel it is pertinent to discuss it here in order to give a different direction to the young curators who would dare to think differently than what has been hailed as curatorial practice not only in the gallery/funding circuit but also in the so called biennale and art fair circuits. It is even a curious factor that none has even asked once why there should be curatorial filtering in the case of art fairs because fairs are basically business platforms where those who could afford to hire a stall should be given an opportunity to exhibit their wares. There comes the class consciousness then; most of the art fairs and biennales work on a class/caste based ideology and prevent the so called low art from being exhibited in their platforms mainly because they want to cater to the ‘taste’ of the upper and affluent classes/castes. The generic argument that the art fair curators often place before the galleries and artists apply for a space is all about maintaining ‘quality’. That means, whatever we see in the art fairs are the kind of ‘quality’ works of art and we are supposed to believe in it.

(for representational purpose only)

Talking about artistic creativity, it is unbounded by any curatorial or social themes. It happens spontaneously based on the creative inclinations of the artist, which however does not rule out his/her interest in the socio-political and economic issues of the country or the world. I would not subscribe the fact that art is a spiritual activity as understood generally by the art people. While creativity cannot be tailor made, contemporary times have made most of the young generation of artists to accept the curatorial interventions as a natural phenomenon in the art field therefore they find there is no problem in succumbing to the curatorial pressures, which is not a bad news for the curators. With an art scene where anyone who puts together an exhibition claims the status of a curator, in certain ways artists could circumvent the curatorial diktats because the curators themselves do not understand what the artists are doing for the exhibition that they are ‘curating’. But that is not the case of the curators who in fact directs the artists to come up with something that would go with their curatorial themes.

If artists are ready to work with the curatorial themes or in other words, if artists show their willingness to respond to the given curatorial thematic, despite showing their creative skills and sparks, wouldn’t it be reduced to a sort of experimentation or in the worst case, an assignment? If such a question is raised to the artists, most of them would say, why shouldn’t they give it a try as it is an opportunity to do something different, in a different medium, in a different context, perhaps in a different country? When artists think in that fashion there is no problem but the issue that comes up their is whether we should see that as a work of art or a work of art in process, or a work of art which is an outcome of a contextual experimentation or even a work of art which loses its relevance once the given context and theme are removed from it. These days, when there is no other argument to support their works, most of the artists say that it is created in a particular space, responding to a particular curatorial theme and perhaps they are not going to continue with similar works or they would enter into a kind of experimental mode only when they are given such a context elsewhere.

(Black Water Vortex by Anish Kapoor)

When artists do such kind of art practice, we could call the outcome as ‘response art’. Response art is such kind of a work of art done by an artist responding to the given curatorial theme, given space where the work is created and within the given temporal experience though the artist would make use of his/her hard earned technical skills there in the implementation of it. However I should add here that ‘response art’ is not ‘responsible art’, nor is it a sort of art that has larger socio-cultural or economic validity due to its responding nature. When the curatorial thematic is taken away from the final outcome, when the physical context is removed and also the circumstances that triggered the artist to make such a work of art is removed from the work, then what does one have there to look at? A simple experiment would prove it. Let us take any ‘site specific’, ‘experimental’ work of art that we see in the biennales and other avenues; at times even in the galleries. And try to see them in a different location and context, with absolutely different material and intellectual conditions? Would the work generate the same effect? If Anish Kapoor’s Biennale work (2014) is removed from there and put it in a washing machine showroom without mentioning the name of the artist, will it create the same effect as it had created in the KMB? Just think about another work of art, a painting or a sculpture in the gallery and then in a washing machine showroom. Find the answer for yourself.

I do not intend to say that all the thematic curatorial practices should end. Nor do I say that the artists should not respond to the curatorial themes. But I would like to see how artists could make their works of art so naturally without any compulsion including the economic pressures. In that case, if the curators are making thematic ideas for a project, they could approach the right kind of artists and choose the works from their studios. Unfortunately, such efforts are neither undertaken by the curators nor funds are given to them to do so by the galleries. When such an ideal curatorial practice come into being, we would have a variety of curators who involve in their studies and come up with ideas that are relevant not only to the times and galleries but also to themselves. Now what happens with curatorial practice, especially done by the young and mid career curators is quite ironical: They look around and find who are all the happening artists and whose works are highly demanded in the market. And they make a curatorial thematic so that they could invite/accommodate these artists in the project. When it comes to the young artists who think themselves as radicals (I wish all of them were thinking radically these days), they put a great effort to find some radical practices and try to create a thematic around it; that’s why we have curatorial themes with the words ‘political’ and ‘experimental’, ‘cutting edge’, ‘universal trope’ and so on coming up quite often.

(for representational purpose only)

It is quite unfortunate to see that most of our curators have either become part of the establishment or have created their own establishments. The rest of the new lot are desperately trying to be a part of the establishment. Nobody can create a work of art within the establishments; that is a truth. After creating one’s works of art, one could enter into the system for its further life. It is almost like you inside your bedroom and you in the street. Inside the bedroom, you are not answerable to your dreams but in the street you need to negotiate with the system. Similarly, curators can dream up anything in their minds but they also need to negotiate with the system once they come out in the streets. But the whole idea is to negotiate the system not with the system. Here negotiation means avoiding the slaps that the system would give you on your face when you go with your curatorial dreams; but the moment you negotiate with the system, at each level you need to compromise or re-adjust yourself. That’s why most of the curatorial projects fail to make an impression in the minds of the people once the show is done. The best way is to discard the whole idea of curating and to find a different way to put together shows. If not assume a clinical academic position and do not make any radical claims because a curatorial thematic cannot make any dent in the current culture. The best way is to let the artists and curators work differently and let the curators do a lot of hard work to find out the artists doing works that would reflect their curatorial ideas. Let the artists stop responding to the curators’ ideas; let them learn to make their art as they breath, naturally.

To create such a situation, one has to imagine such a situation. That needs a lot of courage; perhaps, leaving the art scene altogether for some time.

No comments: