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Article

Curators, words and values: the branding economies of curatorial statements in art biennials

This article looks at the so called curatorial statements in global art biennials, that is to say the discourses that independent curators put together so as to interpret, justify, and explain what their exhibitions are about to art professionals, experts and the public. It asks, through which value systems curatorial branding hails and crafts middle-class, educated and self-reflective lifestyles and publics with high cultural and often symbolic capital? I will be arguing that these statements constitute a form of writing genre that follows recurring linguistic patterns, involving strategic gestures of negating dominant culture, refusing idiosyncratic straw-man narratives and blending expert with populist vocabularies. While seemingly written by socially engaged and critical ‘auteurs', these gestures of curatorial self-presentation can be read as tools for producing surplus value in line with creative economy's celebration of uniqueness, difference and unconventionality. I analyze several statements from recent large scale biennials in terms of the binary oppositions they fabricate, the both mass and specialized audiences they address and the confessional, self-reflective politics they employ. The writing and reading of these statements correspond to forms of acquired cultural capital, for instance through education or through the experience of belonging in art milieus. Contemporary biennials thus remediate the arena of cultural distinction as the ‘cultivated’ in these settings are not expected to be out-and-above-of-society experts similarly to the modern art of the past but amateur polymaths and cultural omnivores who are able to discover uniqueness and unconventionality within the total realm of cultural production.