For Art's Sake - Paradigm Shift

Curators are the new rock stars of the art world

Though my pulse tells me otherwise, I should be dead right now.

A recent Los Angeles Times article by Scott Timberg has heralded the demise of the critic and the triumphant rise of the new shaper of opinion on the art front: the curator.

The refreshingly frank superstar critic David Hickey is quoted as saying, "being an art critic was one of those jobs like nighttime disc jockey or sewing machine repairman: It was a one- or two-generation job."


Art Papers Editor Sylvie Fortin, who recently participated in a discussion on the state of criticism at the Atlanta Contemporary Art Center and pronounced it D-E-A-D, is equally brutal about the your-days-are-numbered critic.

As testament to curators' new prominence, Fortin has focused this fall's Art Papers Live! event around a roster of four international and national curators who will speak on the shift of focus.

It's hard to miss how the new superstar curators like Thelma Golden at the Studio Museum in Harlem and the high-profile trio of lady curators for the 2004 Whitney Biennial - Chrissie Iles, Shamim M. Momin and Debra Singer - are the ones commanding the press attention.

My barometer of what is hep on the non-art world front, Vogue magazine, tends to support theories that curators are cool. A recent profile centered on Yvonne Force-Villareal, a glamorous, clotheshorse curator and president of the Art Production Fund. She is responsible for helping realize a public art installation by artist Rudolf Stingel at Grand Central Station last year and has organized a Vanessa Beecroft show at the Guggenheim. Exemplifying the contemporary role of the media-hopping Renaissance woman, Ms. Force-Villareal also has a rap album out, sponsored by Italian design firm Fendi.

No one seems to care what Jerry Saltz or Peter Schjeldahl are wearing. And I don't believe the New York Times critic Roberta Smith raps.

Curators have definitely taken on the role of the supercool, global, multitaskers out on the town while the perception of critics can often be of fusty, old-school ideologues and agenda-pushers puttering about in their mom's basements.

If curators are indeed the new force to be reckoned with, then Atlanta could be in for some radical changes in the coming months and years as the curatorial picture in the city undergoes a dramatic overhaul beginning with the exit of Atlanta Contemporary of Art curator Helena Reckitt in August.

But August also marks the arrival of the new curator at the Atlanta College of Art Gallery, Stuart Horodner, who could be just the kind of new blood needed to rejuvenate the local art scene. Horodner is originally from the New York metro area where he was also a former gallery owner, but he most recently held teaching and curating positions in Portland, Ore., at the Pacific Northwest College of Art and the Portland Institute for Contemporary Art.

Horodner's approach is multidisciplinary. He has "curated" an exhibition of Portland artists responding to the 2004 presidential election in the pages of that city's alternative paper, Willamette Weekly. He created Portland's first art fair last October. And a current exhibition he co-curated, Contemporary Erotic Drawing, has traveled to art spaces in Houston and Ridgefield, Conn.

A curator with a remarkably nimble, jack-of-all trades bent, Horodner says he'd like to see more design, sound and video art in the ACA gallery.

It's just that kind of diverse experience and enthusiasm for new approaches that could greatly enliven the Woodruff Arts Center scene as it prepares to debut the Renzo Piano addition this November and as ACA tackles new challenges to its Peachtree dominion with Savannah College of Art and Design-Atlanta down the road.

Perhaps best of all, Horodner is already plugged into the local community because of pre-existing relationships with the High's new curator of modern and contemporary art, Jeffrey Grove, as well as Fortin. Since the Atlanta art scene is becoming more aware of the virtues of collaboration and resource sharing, such allegiances should benefit everyone.

Grove could be a potential ally for the local arts scene as well. While the High has often maintained a hands-off approach when it comes to the local art community, several artists and curators have seen Grove's appearance at Atlanta art events as an encouraging sign.

And if curators define an institution, then we will just have to wait and see what impact a radical overhaul of the museum's curatorial staff will mean for the High redux.

Soon after the High announced the selection of Julian Cox, formerly of L.A.'s J. Paul Getty Museum, as the museum's new curator of photography, the High's curator of decorative arts, Stephen Harrison, announced he was leaving.

With the High anxious to have all curatorial hands on deck for the November debut of the new and improved High, there may be a rush to fill that last curatorial void. But before the High hires a new curator, it better take some precautions and locate the source of the hole in Renzo Piano's new building before more curators leak out.


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