What is a curator?, and why do we need to mediate art?

What is a curator?, and why do we need to mediate art?


Curator is not just a term that was invented 20 years ago as people have been curating art for centauries without it being recognised as a role in the art world. I will be looking at how the role of the curator has changed over the years and furthermore now artist are their own curators. By looking at the Pace Gallery and how each exhibition is based around a theoretical context that the curator has chosen to enhance the context of the space. I will also look at why we mediate art and is this the artist’s job or the curator’s.

Before exhibitions were curated by a so called curator, art was exhibited around taste. These taste were usually from old upper class male artist pushing their ideas of what art is to the public. Thus any exhibitor’s work was not chosen because of its context but on how it looked. Therefore in a salon hung exhibition the work was not chosen by a curator but an arbitrator of taste. In Paris the salon exhibitions were held in the grand para but some of the great French artists work was refused to be shown for example Monet. They had to go to the salon del fuzas in an old warehouse. This was because the arbitrators of taste only wanted Romantic paintings in their show, which they classed as good art.

 “The official and semi-official exhibitions held annually in most capital cities of the west came to be dominated by self-perpetuating cliques of artist” (Obrist,1996 Page 6)

Luckily for the art world in the 1920s critical theory was introduced which caused a crisis because it questioned the work of artists. Therefore this gave artists a platform to make a stand against the old ways of exhibiting. Around this time exhibition design also changes and the idea of moving away from perfection in the finished work is introduced. This means that these new theoretical ideas of the messiness of life and the disorganisation are shown in the new conceptual ideas which artist were exploring.

One of the most interesting parts of the development of curating is that artists become curators as well but they are also a medium which the curator uses.  As an artist you also become a writer, critic and curator. The role of the curator is about clearing and framing and also reframing the work of the artist. To understand what a curator is doing is really to understand what you are looking at in an exhibition and the curator is giving you the framework for this. Curators step away from the work and try not to hide anything. Saatchi is all of these: buyer, curator and gallery owner who mediates work to benefit himself finically.

The way in which mediate art was clearly shown at Liu Jiahua Between exhibition at the Pace Gallery in London. The exhibition which was held at the RA was edited to only consist of works which would sell.

The curator Nicolas Smirnoff set up the room that only consisted four pieces but two of these were separated into smaller parts so that they could be sold. “If a work of art is successful, it will invariably set its sights beyond its mere presence in the space: it will be open to dialogue and discussion.” ( p41. Bourriaud 2002)


Additionally the work which cost the most was given a wall to itself so thus showing how important it was. This mediation which the curator did shows how effective good curation can be. We mediate art to show it in its best light, a good curator mediates work so the work becomes better than it was before. This then creates its own problem as a difficulty of a curator is authorship, when dose a piece of work become part of the curators show not the just the artists piece. This is probably why artist also curate there work but this the.

In conclusion, a curator is a individual or a group of people who mediate art to further develop an artists work. The curator could be the artist themselves who are curating a show on their own work and instead of hiring a professional curator for there exhibitions the self curate. The mediation of art is important and if it is at an commercial gallery which sells work the mediation could influences potential buyers.


Bourriaud, N. (2002) Relational Aesthetics. Les Presses du reel. Paris.

Obrist, H. (1996). A brief History of Curating. Les Presses du reel. Paris

O’Doherty, B. (2000). Inside the White Cube: The Ideology of the Gallery Space. Expanded Edition. University of California Press. California

Smirnoff, N. (2015). Liu Jianua Press Release. [Online] Avaiable at: http://www.pacegallery.com/london/exhibitions/12771/between. [Accessed 11 January 2016]









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