Thursday, August 17

The new movement

Discussions about the end of art and art history, the obsolescence of art criticism, the death of painting, and all that fun stuff, will always have a built-in interest for me, primarily because talk like that is almost always reactionary and sensational—and almost always untrue. And I’ll pick up that book or magazine, read that online article, or grab a chair at a panel every time to get the latest version of the same old story. This kind of end-times talk is to me what celebrity gossip is to readers of US Weekly. Similarly, the great movements of twentieth-century modernism—Cubism, Surrealism, Abstract Expressionism, Pop, and even that hairy beast Postmodernism—have all but died in contemporary art. We’re now in this new age of pluralism, as Arthur Danto has proclaimed more than a few times.

But that’s not exactly what this brief post is about. I’ve been toying with a theory of sorts that could use some development, and I haven’t read anything elsewhere that addresses it. The rise of the curator in the contemporary art world is another one of the aforementioned hot topics. Some have claimed, erroneously and hilariously, that curators are now artists. But rather than enter a well-worn, dry-mouthed debate about what exactly a curator is (impresario or interior designer), I offer a different idea about the curator, one directly linked to the end of art movements. Because we’re in a pluralist art world, where anyone can be an artist and anything can be art (provided, of course, the institutional-support safety net is drawn), it is the curator who decides what the movement is. Their decisions are rarely based on style, at least as traditional art history knows style, but rather on concepts, ideas, and themes. A group show on Food in Art or Art as Architecture or even a show where every work of art has an image of a bird in it becomes its own movement. The curator says “This is what artists are doing today, and this is what art is” in the same way that the Fauvs or the Minimalists were and are grouped together. And perhaps this is why the curator, the creator of movements, has become so powerful today: he or she is directly in charge of saying what the (or rather, a) dominant style or trend is today.

Maybe I am overly na├»ve, and everyone implicitly understands this dovetailing historical moment. Or I’m not articulating my thoughts in the best way—I don’t know. This idea could use some refinement.

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