Sunday, November 6, 2011
1. the person in charge of a museum, art collection, etc.
2. a manager; superintendent.
3. Law: a guardian of a minor, lunatic, or other incompetent, especially with regard to his or her property.
Institutional art (sanctioned by art schools, art historians, museums, etc.) is curated of course: paintings, sculptures, performances, photographs, etc. all ordered and categorized, labeled, cataloged and consigned, placed in spaces that are designated as worthy of Art.
But lives are curated too, often using those same lofty and often meaningless verbs. In fact, the lives of people with developmental disabilities have been curated in the United States for over 200 years, when some of the first "special schools" were founded (and "special schools" here means huge institutions where people with "it" were colonized). And still today people with intellectual difficulties, what many people call "mental retardation," are still consigned, labeled, ordered, categorized, and consigned into institutions deemed worthy of their status and abilities. People with "it" often live in group-homes, foster-homes, and larger institutions. They often spend their days in day programs where other people cosigned and labeled just as they are also are placed, overseen by staff. They live under the weight of curation everyday of their lives, and the curators don't often understand that they are in fact curating, managing and supervising, using the tools of their historical (and kind of retrograde) practice. They apply generalizations and abstractions in order to let everyone else know what to do and think when approaching the people they curate. They surround their curated people with paperwork and rules in order for the rest of "us" to understand who they are -- in much the same way a gallery or museum curator fashions wall texts or writes an essay for a catalog, or juxtaposes one picture next to another. These meticulous decisions are freighted with meaning for art curators -- but for curators of the lives of people with "it" no so much. These curatorial powers (used by social workers and teachers and doctors and lawyers) have devolved into a standardized practice. This is who you are, this is what is wrong with you, this is what you need to be safe, and these are the places you can go to be who you are. To be what you are.
Now let's zero in on the main reason I'm writing all this. It's about when people with curated lives make art. Really great, interesting art. How do we take a curated life and attribute art worthy of curating to it? History and common practice devalue these lives to the point they need to be curated; artists without "it" (and who make great, interesting art) are curated in exactly the opposite way. Their art is curated by credentialed specialists whose mission it is to find what is worthy of being institutionalized. People with curated lives more often than not are just plain institutionalized (whether it's a nursing home or a group home or their own apartments with supported living staff).
What I want to try to figure out is how great art made by artists with "it" can smash through the complacency of both poles. And how the curation of this art can somehow critique and replace the curation of art in the lives of artists with developmental disabilities. This means you have to almost pull away from both mindsets. Often when people with "it" make art they are grouped together, and the shows they are in consigned to the level of "community outreach." When these artists with "it" are included in non-"it" shows, "it" always has to enter the picture and jargon and conversation somehow. Maybe one of the best moves when this happens is to have every artist in this kind of show reveal their own personal diagnoses -- what society has deemed wrong with them. Maybe then the playing field might be completely fair.
Maybe the problem isn't about "it," but the way "it" becomes the only way into each sphere.