An art curator is a person who is able to select and effectively co-ordinate the display of art works in a manner that is aesthetically sound, relevant and thought provoking.
They act as a medium or translator and work closely with artists in order to understand the practice deeper and do justice to the artistic endeavor.
While organizing an exhibition a curator is also usually responsible for writing labels, catalog essays, and other content supporting it. The primary requirement to be a successful art curator is to have an eye for a variety of art forms and openness to different ideas and perspectives. The other foundational requirements are management skills, exhibition skills, research skills and writing skills. The curatorial process begins at that point when there is a thematic idea in mind, which is backed up by research and planning of what kind of artists / mediums / and messaging one wishes to go forward with, followed by the final execution.
Even after the launch of the show the curator continues to play a pivotal role guiding the audiences through the exhibit and interacting with them by conducting walkthroughs and lectures.
Challenges and a widening scope
In India, as compared to the West, the curator’s role has only recently started becoming more relevant and invaluable for an exhibition’s success.
Therefore, the scope of opportunities here is definitely widening. However, with anything new, the challenges too can be tougher. Often curators struggle with bridging the gap between curating an exhibit that is socially relevant and aesthetically appealing to the audience sensibilities. The mindset of the Indian art consumer is still primarily focused on works that look good versus the meaning and inspiration behind them. This can be evolved through further education and popularizing more quality exhibitions, which is a responsibility that falls upon the curator’s shoulders.
Another area of struggle is achieving recognition and the right re-imbursement for curatorial efforts. Often people in India underestimate the role of curator and focus only on the artists being exhibited.
While the artists are of course crucial and are the main actors on stage, the direction of the curator needs to be given its true appreciation as well. Creating more awareness about the necessity of this role will only happen with more and more work being done.
Most curator positions require at the minimum a bachelor’s degree in Fine Art or Art History. Larger organizations like museums may typically require a master’s or doctorate in the same. To be recognized as an established independent curator one usually requires about three to four years of experience working in the role of assistant curator or gallery / museum manager post completing their education.
Most liberal art colleges globally now have a dedicated Curatorial Studies program but its best to explore thoseinstitutions that are primarily focused on art like Sotheby’s and Christie’s which are both well-known names in the art world and offer some great courses centered on curation.
They have branches in London, New York and Hong Kong! Locally, SrishtiInstitute of Art, Design & Technologyin Bangalore and the BhauDaji Lad Museum in Mumbai both have some great courses around curatorial practices and the Contemporary art landscape in India. It is crucial to understand the social norms, context and art history of the country you wish to be a curator in.
Ultimately, setting aside these educational requirements, what truly sets apart an art curator is the ability to interact with people and be adaptable to all situations. The art industry runs on connections and engagement. It is a curator’s duty to truly listen and understand the artist they represent, in order to best communicate and translate that to the world and facilitate the right platform to showcase the talent. The curator’s personal pre-conceived notions or perspectives should not dilute the essence of the artistic expression! However at the same time, the curatorial concept is also critical in inspiring artists more, so the synergy is mutual and valuable.
The writer is Creative Director Tao Art Gallery