The Curator as Iconoclast

History and Theory, Bezalel // Issue No.2 – New Approaches in Contemporary Curating, Spring 2006

The Curator as Iconoclast.
Boris Groys
“The article makes the claim that the curator may exhibit, but he doesn’t have the magical ability to transform non-art into art through the act of display. That power, according to current cultural conventions, belongs to the artist alone.”
This Review focuses of the first half of the article ‘The Curator as an Iconoclast’ By Boris Groys which can be found below.
The first half of this article discusses the power-play between an artist and a curator. Though the curator has power over an artwork’s display and a majority of its reception, they lack the ability to elevate an object to the status of an artwork, he can only display already established artwork. It is this factor which gives the modern-day artist the power over his curating counterpart.
Groys makes a clear point of this within the article, stating that:
“The curator may exhibit, but he doesn’t have the magical ability to transform non-art in to art through the act of display.”
Boris Groys also highlights that the power shifted from the curator to the artist over time, and that in the early 19th century, when the first art museums came in to existence, it was the curator whom held all the power. They ‘created’ by bringing religious artifacts and “beautiful” functional items, into public display.
Groys goes on to discuss that to make art, a curator must devalue a sacred object to resurrect it as art. An artists process however, is the complete opposite, in making art an object becomes venerated. In the article Groys offers up the example of Duchamps 1917 work, ‘Fountain’, the everyday urinal was venerated into an art work by Duchamp.
The article highlights the subversive potential of a curator, he/she can directly manipulate a viewers experience of a work, and can subject an art piece to their gaze or perspective, because of this, Groys summises that this kind of viewing experience is not ‘authentic’, because of this lens; where as art displayed on the market seems autonomous, enriched with its own power and energy.
The role of a curator is also appraised in a more positive light, they breath life into an artwork, making an in-animate object have a life or a certain ‘vitality’. Groys contributes this aspect to the root of the term curator, or curare, a person who heals or cures. He describes this within the article as;
‘Curating is curing. The process of curating cures the image’s powerlessness, its incapacity to present itself.’
However, Boris Groys then subverts this argument, stating that a curator ‘cures the image even as it makes it unwell’. A curator’s aim is to present the artwork ‘the act of presentation that presents itself’, he/she makes the work visible, supplying it with new meanings with in the gallery context. The art market however attempts to conceal the works, providing them with the illusion of autonomy.
This article raises the issue of what the ‘right’ curatorial practice is, and also the challenges curators of the present face within the 21st century power-play between themselves and the artist, with the work itself wedged somewhere in between.

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