Understanding the roles and differences between artist, curator, and jurys.
I was in high school when I first saw a Sol LeWitt exhibition. His enormous, colorful installation work overwhelmed me. At first, I thought, “Oh, okay. These are kinda cool.” (Teenage Kristen lingo there.) By the end of the exhibition, I felt like I was on drugs. I didn’t know if I was coming or going. The impact of the exhibition changed how I felt inside in my own body. Halfway across the country, in college I saw the same body of work. Big, bright, bold colorful. Not the same exhibition. Not even close to the same experience. This was my first moment of starting down the path of understanding how the presentation of art can have enormous impact.
Installations. Sol LeWitt created installations. In installations, the artist also plays a portion of the role of a curator. The artist is creating the artwork, and how it interacts with the exhibition space. Artwork can exist for only the exhibition time. Other work can be transformed completely as it moves from one space to another. For example, Jenni Ward, ceramic sculpture artist, experiments with her sculptures in different locations, including inside museums and galleries, outside in meadows, forests, tide pools, and even underwater.
Curators. Most of the time art exhibitions aren’t installations. The curator has a special role. They create the best possible exhibition from the art available. Curators oversee selecting work and interpreting it in a way that other people can experience. They look at the work possible to include in the exhibition and decide how to maximize the impact within the space. They usually have a working knowledge of the space, however, may be a guest curator.
Juried Shows. In a juried show, a juror picks the best exhibition possible from the submissions. Often, they may be the juror, but not the curator. Many artists feel bad when their work isn’t selected in a juried show application. Rejection isn’t fun. I have been rejected many times, often for exhibitions that I figured where an “easy in.” However, when I have attended those exhibitions, I often found that my work, while just as strong as the accepted work, didn’t flow well with the selected pieces. (Side note: A judge gives awards while a juror selects artworks or artists from a larger pool of applications.)
As an artist my job is to create the strongest, best work that I can. My job is also to get that work in front of people. Without the viewer, half of the communication of an artwork is silenced. A juror’s job is to create the strongest, best exhibition from the submissions. A curator’s job is to create the best exhibition within their space. To lay out and arrange an exhibit for maximum impact.