I’m fascinated (alas, only from afar) by the Louvre’s Special Guest program and in particular with its use of acclaimed novelists as guest curators. (I’ve posted on this program before, here). The Louvre has featured Toni Morrison in this capacity in the past; right now, the novelist and semiotician Umberto Eco is unveiling a series of exhibitions and other programs relating to the topic of “The Infinity of Lists” which draws upon his book The Vertigo of the List. This, along with an email from one of our readers (hi Elizabeth!), has got me thinking about the relationship between books and museum exhibitions – and in particular about what happens when novels are the inspiration for museum exhibitions – or even for museums themselves. Read more
Even Umberto Eco. I love what the Louvre is doing by signing him on as guest curator (as they have previously done with writer Toni Morrison and composer Pierre Boulez). Eco’s theme for his work at the Louvre is “The List.” For example, he’s organizing a conference on 16th century Flemish artist Pieter Bruegel the Elder that looks at how the latter’s peasant subjects make for a kind of visual list. There will also be a performance art piece that draws from lists found in works by Homer, James Joyce, Victor Hugo and Eco’s own oeuvre. I like that they’re using Eco to curate not artworks but institutional programming, which allows him greater reach and play.
J. Crew’s a curator now too. Their online catalog features a new “Designer Collaborations” series, one which promises “a HIGHLY EDITED selection of the top names out there–those who have truly perfected their CRAFT. You shouldn’t have to travel the world to find the very BEST.” Italics and bolded words most certainly NOT MINE.
The New York Times ran an interesting article last week about the attractions that the word “curator” holds for fashion, new media and marketing professionals, but that J. Crew blurb pretty much sums it all up: an offer of selectivity and exclusivity, of authoritative knowledge and insight into what’s considered to be the best that’s out there.
I like the fact that the word ‘curating’ has gone mainstream, although it does seem like most of the marketers who use the term “curate” are confusing its meaning with the idea of list-making, or worse, with personal shopping. Even if that list is meant to be a selective offering of the best whatever-it-is in your field, it’s still just a list of things you’re meant to go out and buy. Curating, as we know, isn’t exactly like that (although Whitney Biennial-type curating sometimes kinda is….). Curating for museum professionals is as much about cultural and historical contextualizing and recontextualizing as it is about discernment or “having a good eye” — a phrase that curators themselves throw around and which I always loathed, mostly because it tended to make me feel self-conscious about my shoes.