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Reporting from Rome

The care in curating
  • Inside the Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Moderna (National Gallery of Modern Art) in Rome, Italy. One of the sites investigated on the Curating The Contemporary course run by Goldsmiths (part of the University of London) hosted at the British School at Rome.

The National Art Gallery of The Bahamas West and West Hill Streets Nassau, The Bahamas

Published: Jul 28, 2017

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Three weeks of Italian summer and being surrounded by art professionals sounds like a dream, and in many ways, of course, it is. From the “shallow” things—like eating gelato for breakfast (which, I’ll have you know, is entirely civilized)—to the deeper stuff, of discussing intense readings around the purpose and history of curatorial practice and being able to view Caravaggio paintings in resplendent old buildings, the Goldsmiths ‘Curating The Contemporary’ summer art intensive, hosted at the British School at Rome, was an education, and in ways I had not anticipated. I was supported by the Charitable Arts Foundation as well as The National Art Gallery of The Bahamas to embark on this journey of professional development that would prove to also be one of intense personal development.

We were a troupe of 17 delegates all from different stages of our careers (some only just considering embarking on a curatorial practice after finishing Fine Arts studies, some long established) and we were also from considerably different backgrounds - all, however, were women. There was a large European base of participants (from Poland, Denmark, Germany and quite a few UK citizens), but also a few American women (who ranged from recent graduates to Whitney and Guggenheim employees). There was also a contingent of us from the peripheries of the world, including myself, a Portuguese director of an

institution in Macau, and a Columbian university lecturer. This was, no doubt, a way to try to ensure a diversity of experience and opinion as we went through discussions on the best practices of curators, what curatorial practice is, what it should do, and the difficult political history of ‘the museum’ as an institution.

Perhaps, at this point, it might be apropos to explain just what exactly curating is. The course has problematized the way I feel that I can best elucidate it, but while that aspect might be difficult it has, however, made clear to me what I feel my role as a curator is and should be. Simply put, curators are often exhibition-makers (though that is now often used as a term in itself, hence my problem) as well as the caretakers of collections. This means that the role of a curator can span anything from cleaning and arranging the care of a damaged work, to installing artwork in an exhibition, to working out the logistics for shipping out work, to researching artworks and coming up with the theoretical framework to ground an exhibition. It should become obvious, then, that curators are Jacks- and Janes-of-all-trades wrapped into one.

For myself, the most important part of being a curator is knowing how best to support the arts ‘ecology’ and environment in which you work. Supporting artists, letting the work lead, is all part of it. To curate comes from the latin word ‘curare’ which means ‘to care.’ Many of us have lost our care and have put ourselves in a position of irrefutable power, to the detriment of ourselves and the community of artists and people we serve - and more still, some of us forget that we cannot and should not speak for people whose experiences we know nothing of. Support is meant to be the order of the day here.

It may be quite curt to say, but I find myself quite disillusioned with the institutionalization of art - from the indoctrination into what ‘counts’ as art that we receive in university to the way that certain institutions become validators of what is ‘good’ contemporary work. Even people themselves become a sort of institution, or biennales become an institution and ‘tastemaker’ for work. Don’t get me wrong; I had brilliant tutors at a small university who cared deeply enough about my experience and potential to give me what tools I needed to make up my mind about my position in the world and therefore my position within the art world. However, even they are subject to the pressures of academia and how to prepare students for life outside of the cushioned (albeit perpetually broke) life of university. They delivered to me the in