As homogeneity begins to decline across cultural spheres (a good thing), art curators are being challenged to find new ways to provoke and entertain today's audiences. But from that arises the question: Who will drive those curators to push the boundaries further, before they get too comfortable? It seems a crop of independent curators have arrived and are up for the challenge, while further democratizing the role.
"I think it all started with a strong desire to pave my road without having to ask for someone's validation and to keep moving forward on my own agenda," said Coco Dolle, the artist and curator behind the independent curatorial practice Milk and Night. Dolle's shows feature mostly feminist artists, from Betty Tompkins to the Guerrilla Girls, because she seeks spaces that support her interests. "Institutions are bound to internal hierarchies that aren't easy to maneuver," Dolle told me by email. "An independent curator breathes freedom and flexibility."
Kenta Murakami, an aspiring independent curator working at OSMOS—a project space and publisher in the East Village—told me that he thinks anyone who is out there looking at art and meeting the people who create it can be a curator. "It's important to realize that the motivation and energy behind organizing a show is what matters first and foremost."
Ambre Kelly and Andrew Gori, two independent curators themselves, invested their motivation and energy in providing a space for other independent curators to shine. As directors of SPRING/BREAK, an art fair dedicated to finding burgeoning art curators from around the world, they select people who they ask to execute curatorial projects within the fair; they're independent curators curating independent curators, allowing for a plethora of works on to the empty walls of venues that change from year to year. Kelly and Gori said they charted their path to being and supporting independent curators out of necessity.
"As emerging artists, we felt the effects of the 2008 financial crisis deeply, mainly because it seemed that so few galleries and institutions were taking risks on younger artists, so we decided to start doing shows with our friends around NYC," the duo explained by email.
This year, the Brooklyn Academy of Music paired independent curator Nicole Will with New York Public Library curator Jonathan Hiam and got the best of the indie and the institution. Do What I Want: The Experimental World of Arthur Russell is a survey of the avant-garde composer's life's work, combining a horde of archival material with lm screenings and unreleased audio from the late cellist's estate. The difference between curating for established and upstart institutions, Will explained, is "mainly, support versus flexibility." Institutions, however "provide infrastructure that is super important: an already engaged audience, marketing and PR, trained installers, and departments that support additional programming."
Will, a former director at Chelsea's Bortolami Gallery, predicts an increasingly institute-agnostic art world just over the horizon. "I think we will see more interdisciplinary shows and artists who don't neatly into categories or certain artistic circles. I think we will also see more art outside traditional exhibition spaces, more access to art without crossing a gallery or museum threshold." Brave new art world, indeed.