[iDC] Curating New Media Art

john sobol john at johnsobol.com
Tue Apr 11 22:01:06 EDT 2006

On 11-Apr-06, at 12:38 PM, Trebor Scholz wrote:

> Curators try to be the ones who bring out particular artists. There is 
> nothing wrong with that...

Maybe not, but I have always marveled at how the visual art world 
foregrounds a role that in other spheres is no less important 
(editor/publisher of books, producer of CDs, etc.) but far less 
idolized. "What does a curator actually do?" is a question I asked 
myself long after I first became one.  Based on the reverence afforded 
the role I figured it must be something more than simply organizing 
exhibitions, which I saw as a vital and worthy yet fairly 
straightforward activity. Curating seemed instead to be considered 
integral to the artist's creative process in a way that was different 
from other artistic spheres. Of course, as I eventually realized, it 
isn't. In fact, in many artistic worlds producers are much more 
involved with the artmaking process than curators. And yet there is one 
significant difference between what curators do and what, say, John 
Hammond, Lorne Michaels, Albert Lion, Lewis Selznick, Harriet Monroe or 
Snoop Dogg (to name just a few legendary 'curators' of poetry, music, 
tv and film) have done, and that is that art curators write serious 
essays that claim to explain, unpack and/or deconstruct the work they 
are presenting. And this process is deemed, in the hyper-theorized and 
hyper-literate contemporary visual artworld, to be so crucial to the 
life of the artwork as to be almost inseparable from it. Whereas of 
course this is not true.

> But possibly the underlying assumption is wrong in the first place. 
> Perhaps emergent
> digital aesthetics need new venues outside of the establishments of the
> art world. The dance club. The community center...

This seems a crucial and obvious point. Isn't a DJ a curator? Does 
anybody still believe in high-art anyway? Don't we all generally 
believe in creativity rather than art? Maybe not. I certainly do. For 
me the urgent question isn't how to get new media art into museums but 
how to get museums to reorient themselves towards digital culture in a 
very fundamental way. Because if they don't, it'll take only a 
generation or so for the vast heritage that museums steward to be 
steamrolled by the great-great-grandchildren of Grand Theft Auto. That 
would be, uh, bad.

> Amanda reported that Eyebeam has moved to a focus on media
> art production workshops and educational programs rather in opposition
> to being a collecting museum.

Eyebeam is an excellent example of how museums can (and should) rethink 
their roles. Because museums are cultural broadcasters in a soon-to-be 
p2p world they are as endangered as newspapers – but with far less 
motivation to reinvent themselves. All the effort to get cool new media 
art into museums will be wasted if people eventually stop supporting 
monological cultural institutions such as museums altogether. If this 
sounds far fetched, just picture the empty silence that already 
characterizes so many of the world's contemporary art galleries at any 
given time. A silence in which all one can hear is curators scribbling 
and the squeaking of security guard boot-soles. Some artists dream of 
seeing their work in there. An increasing number don't. For them, with 
the www as their gallery, curators are far less important than a 
well-located link. And for audiences, well, if it can't be Googled...

You made and recapitulated a lot of other good points trebor, too many 
to address in this post. I suppose I should wrap this up neatly but I'm 
too tired. I love museums and I love curating. I just don't see a rosy 
future for either of them in their present forms. There's too much 
(inter)action elsewhere.

regards and respect

bluesology • printopolis • digitopia

More information about the iDC mailing list