A Shadow Curator inside the institution

by Claudia Zeiske and Nuno Sacramento

The Shadow Curator helps to bring together the artistic practices with the core of the discourse

The book ARTocracy proposes a pragmatic curatorial approach, when dealing with contemporary art, context, informal spaces, communities, and social consequence. It was written with one thing in mind: to potentiate and stir a renewed practice-led dialogue between these spheres.

Traditionally, a curator is someone who takes care of the collection of a museum or historic site. The word itself comes from the Latin word “curatus,” meaning “care.” A curator has a range of responsibilities, which are different from organisation to organisation, depending on the size of the institution, its mission, its financial resources, and the availability of other staff.

In the contemporary visual arts context, the curator’s role is to develop an understanding and overview of both conceptual and organisational tasks. The “caring” element of curating is not related to the objects only, but also to the artists, the community, and the context — which may be a gallery, a residency centre, a site-specific project, an event, a book, etc. The curator generates the necessary conditions for the emergence of visual arts projects and at the same time is responsible for the frameworks of reception by the public. The curatorial scope relates to every stage of the project, from the conditions of making, to the presentation, and finally to the reception of the work.

While they may come from a visual arts training background or related discipline, such as art history or cultural studies, visual arts curators have become interdisciplinary practitioners, who have to balance the theoretical tasks (research and conceptualising of projects) with the more organisational ones (fundraising, marketing/PR, learning/education, for instance).

“Shadow Curator is to the curator what the Shadow Minister is to the Minister: it is a position of peaceful antagonism or of agonism.”

The idea of Shadow Curator originates from an appropriation of the concept of Shadow Minister in Anglo-Saxon politics. However, the comparison demands further clarification. While the Shadow Minister is interested in the downfall of his opponent, in order to take his place, the Shadow Curator is interested in consolidating the position of the curator. A robust curatorial practice results in a consolidated arts organisation.

The Shadow Curator’s role isn’t to assist or to mentor a curator in regard to a particular project or programme. Their role is, through the use of dialogue and discussion, to challenge the proposals and actions of the curator in order to consolidate his/her methodology.

Curators who are inclined to invite the critical position of the Shadow Curator are likely to belong to one or more of the following categories: feel isolated from the dominating curatorial discourse, want to gain knowledge and insight about other curatorial practices, feel the desire for challenge and discussion in order to establish their positions, want to enter networks where relevant discussions are taking place, or simply want their practices to be bridged with the practices of others in order to assess whether their work resonates with the work of their peers. The starting points for the Shadow Curator dialogue can thus range from geographic isolation, a keen interest in expanding knowledge on curating and affiliated practices, or a desire for debate and agonistic dialogue, etc. Curators who live and work in isolation regarding contemporary arts feel that although they have access to publications and websites on curatorial discourse, they are often unable to contribute to them, which can lead to the frustration of being at the receiving end of a one-way communication.

This gap is bridged by the Shadow Curator, who helps to bring together the artistic practices with the core of the discourse. Curators whose practices relate closely to curatorial discourse, often lack the time and the resources for a more formal discussion around their work. Here, the Shadow Curator potentially contributes to the formalisation of a discussion, by encouraging the curator to build a time frame for the analysis and reflection around practice, within a busy schedule. This discussion between curator and Shadow Curator leads to the deconstruction of the tacit curatorial discourse. It promotes the study of curatorial methodologies and consolidates the practices of individuals and of their organisations. It creates a new position in the context of visual arts that strengthens the position of the curator, while contributing to the approximation of practices located at the periphery and at the core of discourse.

The writing of the book was the result of an often difficult, mostly pleasurable but constant, agonistic discussion between the Curator and the Shadow Curator.

ARTocracy by Nuno Sacramento and Claudia Zeiske 192 pages, softcover Jovis, Berlin, 2010 jovis.de
by Nuno Sacramento and Claudia Zeiske
192 pages, softcover
Jovis, Berlin, 2010

The concept of Shadow Curator was developed upon Nuno Sacramento PhD research thesis Curating Shadow: The Critical Portfolio. After completing the doctorate, Nuno Sacramento introduced this concept at Deveron Arts, as Shadow Curator of the director Claudia Zeiske. As result of the project, the Deveron Arts institution adopted the Shadow Curator as a permanent position.

Top. 100 drawings from the video animation Did I See Another Angel?, 2012, digital picture, by Nick Rands.