In recent years, the notion of curating has assumed multiple meanings, some more fraught than others. In the traditional sense of the word, curating is the process of selecting, looking after, and organising artworks in a collection or exhibition. An increasingly sophisticated and technologically complex world has enabled anyone to virtually curate or provide curated selections for a digital audience. It is less prescient now to establish a hierarchy for curating but to seek ways of doing so in ways that are creative, innovative and educational. I am specifically interested in the prospect of curating online and see this as a means to provide unprecedented access to visual art while fulfilling the needs of a new breed of collectors.
Curators from major museums, private collections and foundations have recently shown interest in taking their practice online. The website that I help run and maintain, ARTUNER, works with these curators to produce unique online exhibitions that we call curations. The curators with whom we work conceptualise the exhibition, describe it through a curatorial text, decide which artworks should be included and then choose the sequence in which the works appear in our virtual gallery (below) where the artworks are presented to scale.
Figure 2: Flower Rondeau on Display on Artuner.com
Figure 3: Flower Rondeau Description by a Curator
While oftentimes the works are not viewable in person, this process has its rewards. It allows for works in artist studios across the world to be organised, described and displayed in a way that would be difficult to coordinate in a physical context. It also provides the added convenience of accessibility: the exhibitions can be attended from wherever you are in the world, provided you have an Internet connection. Curators can source works from anywhere and display them for those who may not be able to visit the art physically because of geographic constraints or because of a lack of free time.
I’m lucky to have the opportunity to assist curators and artists alike in a collaborative digital environment while writing, organising and maintaining a series of Insights relating to the work on display. This is my own form of digital curating. While I do not see it as a total replacement to the physical experience of enjoying art in a real world setting, the importance of providing well curated content to complement art is nonetheless very gratifying.
Figure 4: Art for Airports Exhibition
A variety of sites present artworks that have been curated by experts; there are others that allow the user to become the expert instead. This focus on audience participation brings out the curatorial side in anyone, giving free reign to our critical faculties and, indeed, our understanding of what it means to curate. Quite ironically, perhaps, the word has become as subjective as the process it describes.
Figure 5: Art-I-Curate Screenshot
Websites like Art-i-Curate are geared more towards letting users have a say in the curatorial line. This site enables users to select artworks and organise them into viewable selections. Pinterest and Artstack are two more variations on this theme, where boards (or “stacks”) devoted to art objects can be seen as online exhibitions. For some, this example of curating has come to mean that, in a certain sense, “If You Use the Web, You Are a Curator”. While museum curators may look down on such insouciances, the reality now is that it is easier than ever for people who use the web to categorise artworks — whilst also categorising themselves as a curator. Major museums do opt to use online platforms such as Pinterest as a means by which to actively promote the works in their holdings. The digital marketing team responsible for promoting the current Viking exhibition at the British Museum via Pinterest mix works from the exhibition with pictures of “Real Viking Tattoos” and articles about “Your Favourite Viking”. While this is effective in heightening awareness surrounding the show, it is not a form of curating that museums task to those curators who organise exhibitions.
A less general approach to online curation — particularly for those who are involved in new media installations in the fine art world — is the virtual exhibiting of artworks as an installation experience that aims to emulate a physical setting. An example of this kind of curation is the collect the WWWorld project that was exhibited in the Spazio Contemporanea in Brescia, Italy, in the House for Electronic Arts Basel in Switzerland in 2011 and 2012 and in Brooklyn at 319 Scholes in 2012. Although there are no set exhibition dates for a future physical instalment, artworks are still being added to the webpage today. Collect the WWWorld is described by its curator Domenico Quaranta as an “attempt to show how art responds to the society of information” and how it can exist as a research process, a traveling show and a book. The physical installations are avenues to identify the various ways in which the Internet has had an impact on contemporary art. Curators like Quaranta highlight the potential of the Internet as a support to physical art installations in ways that were not feasible before the dynamism of Web 2.0.
Figure 6: Collect the WWWorld
Copyright Collect the WWWorld
Specific curatorial practices have emerged that provide a guiding principle for potential tastemakers. A fresh dialogue will hopefully open with new artists working with new mediums, promoting a reinvigorated relationship between creator and curator, and offering a revived understanding of art that yields a more enlightening experience for art lovers, collectors and everyone in between. Online exhibition organisation will not surpass physical curating in importance but in my view will continue to be a welcome complement.
Cover Image: Flower Rondeau, in situ
Screenshot from Artuner.com (c)