¨My job is to make artworks talk to each other. That is something you achieve by thinking about what the pieces are saying, which is never just one thing. That is why I think that my profession is actually to interpret. It seeks to form discursive devices, whether textual or physical, creating a context and a discussion.¨ Julieta González
Curators are in charge of preserving, communicating and exhibiting Art, and recording its history. However, according to the dictionary, their work is not absolutely defined: neither as “comisarios” – as they are called in Spain – nor as “curadores” – as they are known in Latin America – their meaning is fully fixed. Thus, it is no wonder that many questions arise: Who legitimizes the work of art curators? What are the challenges they face in Latin America? What is clear is that “initiative, rigor and dialogue” are key words for this rising profession among the youth.
In order to dialogue about the situation of curators in the Ibero-American context, about their synergies and strategies, the Argentinian writer and critic, Barbara Victoria, collaborator of ARTEINFORMADO, spoke with seven outstanding curatorial representatives of the Museo Jumex –Mexico-, the Museo de Arte Universitario Contemporáneo –México-, the Museo de Arte Moderno de Medellín –Colombia-, the Museo de Arte de Lima –Perú-, the Museo de Arte Contemporáneo -Chile-, the Instituto Tomie Ohtake –Brasil-, and the Museo de Arte Latinoamericano de Buenos Aires –Argentina-.
Contexts & Synergies
Since the end of the 20th century, Ibero-American art has been rediscovered by the world: it is seen with new eyes, its voice is a protagonist and no longer a collateral effect of European art. In this context, the needs of autonomy and collaboration arise. Autonomy in the sense of having a voice of its own that defines national identity and its artistic and cultural representatives. Collaboration because the fragility of the institutions of this region implies a challenge that is solved by working together.
One example is the case of the Tomie Ohtake Institute of Sao Paulo. Paulo Miyada, who works in the research and curatorial teams with Ricardo Ohtake, proposes: “We are aware of what it is to work from the peripheries of the history of European art. There is much to do, to write, to expose. There are power relations to tackle globally as much as there is ground to work locally. I would not think of this as a challenge. It gives me the impression that it is, rather, an opportunity. “ The Tomie Ohtake Institute is a multidisciplinary production platform that offers projects that invite the community to participate in the understanding of contemporary art. At the moment it displays an exhibition based on the collection of the Brazilian couple Andrea and Olympio Pereira which was co-cured with Robert Storr. It includes works by artists such as Lygia Clark, Mauricio Dias & Walter Riedweg, Alfredo Volpi, Tunga, Carmela Gross and Waltercio Caldas.
Another case is the Museo Jumex, where the curatorial process is based on four areas: culture – anchored in anthropology, ethnography and sociology; environment – in relation to design and architecture; information – and its impact on artistic production; and the intersection between art and life. “These axes recognize artists who seek to transcend the historical and commercial canon. For example, the Peter Fischli & David Weiss exhibition was located at the intersection between art and life. Walid Raad‘s exhibition has to do with the core of culture, rethinking the role of memory in the Arab context. And in the area of information, we have conceptual artist Ulises Carrión, who travels from the Reina Sofia Museum¨, comments Julieta González, director and curator of the Museo Jumex.
A common strategy among museums is the formation of committees, which shows the importance of the collaborations. An example is the case of the MALBA, in Argentina, where Agustín Pérez Rubio, its artistic director, explains: “We have the Artistic Scientific Committee, in which besides Victoria Giraudo and I there are also Agnes Katzenstein, Andrea Giunta, Julieta González, Adriano Pedrosa, and Octavio Zaya. With the committee the interesting thing is that they make us transmitters, working as curatorial ambassadors, learning what other institutions and projects at an international level we should keep in mind, and at the same time they help us to deepen our own program.”
In Peru we spoke with Natalia Majluf, director of the MALI: “We form an Internal Curatorial Committee, which defines general policies and priorities related with collection, registration and conservation. Then there is the Academic Committee which aims to evaluate acquisitions and recommend general policy guidelines. In the case of contemporary art we call external curators to advise the Procurement Committee. MALI defines its curators as facilitators of dialogue with the scene, who actively invite other critics and curators to participate in the work we do. ”
Undefined, Unregulated & Unclassified
In Mexico we also spoke with Cuauhtémoc Medina, curator in chief of the MUAC. “This profession is undefined, unregulated and unclassified. Our collective function is to create institutions that host contemporary production, which contain the needs of the public, negotiate the possibility of resources, and accompany the way in which contemporary art in the region has claimed its sustainability” Medina says. Is institutional support is needed? “Yes, it is necessary, but it is also our task to find it. Our way of operating is getting the support of the public, getting the benefit of the doubt of society, and making artists consider these institutions not as the enemy, but as part of their civic territory.”
Another case of an institution that was driven by young people is the MAMM, in Colombia. Emiliano Valdés, the Chief Curator, tells us: “This museum has been founded by artists and intellectuals and that is why it keeps a close relationship with that population. It was the product and creation of the artists and it remained like this with the following generations; so maintaining that relationship with the artistic sphere of the city is our focus. We have exhibitions of local artists, such as “Micro-Rhythms” by Paloma López and Leslie García, and by international artists, such as Cámara de Maravillas, an exhibition that we received curated by Jens Hoffmann”.
Emiliano also clarifies that the axis that crosses the exhibitions of the MAMM has to do with different ways of knowing: ways of knowing the world, ways of knowing the other, ways of knowing ourselves, ways of knowing the whole. “It is our mission to professionalize our own experience. But I do not feel it as a lack. My advice to anyone who wants to be an art curator and that is notable to access a course or diploma, don’t get down on yourself. You have to know the texts, the stories of the exhibitions, there are many ways to approach art and if you do it with commitment, sensitivity and attention, you do not need a paper to tell you that you are curator”, says Emiliano, pointing out that most curators from Latin America come from other careers, such as Architecture, Literature and Visual Arts.
Support for Young Curators
Where are the spaces of action for young curators? The alternatives are multiple. We spoke with Francisco Brugnoli, director of the MAC in Chile: “There are constantly exhibitions of young curators. The recent ‘Pero la desobediencia dormía’, curated by Ángela Cura and Felipe Cura, and ‘Imagen Intermedia’, curated by Daniel Cruz, at MAC Parque Forestal, are excellent examples of this. The MAC is a place of excellence and for the extension policy of the University as a border of contact and dialogue between academics and producers from other fields.
Similarly, MALBA works with different institutes, for with Universidad Torcuato di Tella, in Buenos Aires. And at the same time there are cases where the curatorial contexts is proposed by a new curator, such as the Argentine artist Osías Yanov, with an exhibition curated by the young Argentine curator Laeticia Mello.
In the MUAC, always working together with the Universidad Autónoma de Mexico, a series of seminars “Campo Extendido” is offered, and regularly makes exhibitions that become research projects. Another program they propose is “The MUAC in your House”, where they work outside in the city, working to go beyond the privileged forms of creating art, and understanding new forms of exhibition as a means of learning. Another tool is the production of texts that complement the exhibits, such as those of the Museo Jumex that are offered in an accessible way for students.
Getting stronger, marking autonomy with respect to the colonial past, and the never ending political ups and downs. Rethinking individual stories is the key, and there the importance – and responsibility – of the curator working at the service of culture. “There is an independence from the traditional public structure, which has all the bureaucratic and often corrupt obstacles, with the obstacles that the State creates. I believe that if we work on consolidating a parallel, alternative sector, we can generate a change from within,” reflects Julieta Gonzalez.
“There are curators who are operators of the interrelation between social spectacle and fundraising. There are curators who are inspiring musicians, analyzing the concept of the artists and babysitting them. There is no monopoly or control over the work of the art curator. It is a fairly unregulated field, whose prestige or value only occurs in an unknown future. That’s why is hard to say what our qualities are. We are animals, I would say, an animal with seven or eight or sometimes even fifteen legs, other times we do everything with only one. I would say then that we are a profusion of animals, which until now has built what is in reality an apparatus of active monsters,” concludes Cuauhtémoc Medina.
The interviewees recommend some curators and young spaces to follow the track such as: Mobile (Argentina), Julia Rebouças (Brazil), Clarissa Diniz (Brazil), TEOR / ethics (Costa Rica), Gabriel Rodríguez (Guatemala) Melissa Aguilar (Colombia), Miguel López (Peru) and Bisagra (Peru).