The constant transformation of the word curatorship has led it far from its previous connotation, rooted in the literal translation from the Latin word curare—to take care of. What has happened to the curators? What exactly are they taking care of? In this age of booming biennial culture and hyper-globalized curatorial practice, the role of the curator has become obstructed by the pluralist world of art exhibitions and the blurred edges of what is accepted as art. Artists can no longer participate in the art world without being global, and curators have followed in their wake.
Curators have become elusive art-world nomads, constantly reinventing themselves just to stay in the game. The role itself has undergone various metamorphoses from a creative to more critical one, and back and forth between the two.
After years of categorization and object-based collection, curators have begun move away from things and toward ideas. As a result, a hybridization of curator and artist is on the rise, which can also operate as an inverse effect.
Artists curate by presenting selected didactic texts or materials that necessarily affect the conception of his or her work. Curators creatively assert themselves by deploying exhibitions and artists as their medium. This interpretation is especially tenable regarding curators who work independently instead of within the framework of an institution. Even so, curators taking on the role of auteur are often criticized for upstaging the artists.
David Kasprzak’s current show at the Wattis Gallery in San Francisco illustrates this tension, but does so by putting a spin on the artist-curator relationship that is at once intriguing and disorienting. Rather than subsume the artists and artwork under a single visionary’s concept, Kasprzak disappears entirely from the curating process, leaving no trace behind. Here, choosing not to take care of anything constitutes as acceptable curatorial practice.
In Route 3, Kasprzak turns the authority over to the artists selected for the show. Route 3’s official title is Anthony Discenza Meets Mungo Thomson Meets Harrell Fletcher Meets Alicia McCarthy Meets Eleanor Antin Meets Jason Meadows Meets Rodney Graham Meets Pascal Shirley Meets Ari Marcopoulos Meets Paul McCarthy Meets James Welling Meets Catherine Opie Meets Tammy Rae Carland Meets Ed Ruscha, and is part of an annual series that draws from the 101 Collection. Based in San Francisco, the collection is comprised of works by artists who live and work along Highway 101, which famously runs down the entirety of the West Coast from Canada to Mexico. The collection includes work from these countries as well the American states of California, Oregon, Washington, Arizona, Nevada and Idaho.
Each exhibition calls the notion of art collecting into question, reorganizing its thematic structure to redefine boundaries. Route 3 is designed to curate itself through a collaborative tag-team approach designating artists and other appointed colleagues as joint curators of the collection. Beginning with Anthony Discenza, each artist chose another artist to contribute a piece to the exhibition, which have been installed alongside each other in the gallery. The result is a double-decker conceptual sandwich stacked high with seemingly unrelated artworks by heavy-hitters such as Ed Ruscha and Paul McCarthy, as well as other emerging artists, many of them graduates of the California College of the Arts in San Francisco, like Kasprazak himself. The exhibition integrates a variety of media spanning from video, audio, photography, painting, sculpture and installation. In lieu of calling all the curatorial shots, Kasprzak manipulates the production of meaning by relinquishing all creative and conceptual control to the artists and his colleagues.
The result is compelling if not controversial, owing to the fact that curatorship is still attributed to Kasprzak despite his strict hands-off policy. On top of that, Route 3 is part of an initiative in collaboration with CCA’s curatorial fellowship program that invites graduating students to spend a third year studying and curating a project from the 101 Collection. The fellowship allows the selected students to realize a curated project in a public space with full institutional support. Many have argued that Kasprzak, who won the fellowship last year, is wasting a valuable opportunity to gain important experience and exposure at the expense of other students. His complete absence from the project can be difficult to swallow, but that depends on one’s interpretation of his strategy.
While he avoids providing any direct input, it’s unmistakably evident that the appointed decision-makers were carefully choreographed based on expertise. The brochure essay was entrusted to Lindsey Westbook, in which she states that Kasprzak “might be a genius or a charlatan”—take your pick. In like manner, Kasprzak delegated the installation design to Wattis’s chief preparatory, Justin Limoges, and the graphic design to Jon Sueda, the gallery’s official design director. Kasprazak encouraged all three of his colleagues to carry out their duties however they wished, but most importantly, without any consultation whatsoever. Bear in mind that Kasprzak holds an M.A. in Curatorial Practice from the California College of the Arts in San Francisco, as well as a B.F.A. in Visual Arts from Columbus College of Art and Design in Ohio. He is well if not overqualified for the job, but has consciously removed himself from the decision-making process, pulling one disappearing act after another.
The gesture can be interpreted in a variety of ways, perhaps most plainly as a critique of the hierarchy of curatorial practice. Kasprzak illuminates the fact that a gallery exhibition will come together with or without the entrenched infrastructure of the institution. Or, if we return to the idea of curating as the realization of an authorial vision, Kasprzak’s disappearing act could even be perceived as a work of conceptual art. Either way, he brings to light the precarious limbo of the curator’s current position. He recognizes that the curator’s relationship to the artists, artwork and institutions has become so obtuse that a wide-open field of opportunity, both creative and intellectual, has arisen. Kasprzak takes the road less traveled—perhaps others will follow his lead.
Route 3: Anthony Discenza Meets Mungo Thomson Meets Harrell Fletcher Meets Alicia McCarthy Meets Eleanor Antin Meets Jason Meadows Meets Rodney Graham Meets Pascal Shirley Meets Ari Marcopoulos Meets Paul McCarthy Meets James Welling Meets Catherine Opie Meets Tammy Rae Carland Meets Ed Ruscha
19 January—25 February 2012
The Wattis Gallery