Support Acts: Curating, Caring and Social Reproduction

Helena Reckitt
2016 Journal of Curatorial Studies  
Journal of Curatorial Studies, 5: 1, pp. 6-30 Keywords curating and caring curating and affect feminist curating social reproduction art patronage precarious labour in art Abstract This article considers the changing definitions of curatorial labour in the light of affective economies of care and love. It examines how recent conceptions of curating shift emphasis from caring for objects and collections to producing and managing social networks, collective energies and professional
more » ... While curators prioritize their care for artworks and artists, they often overlook the low-status and infrastructural activities that sustain curatorial production. At the same time, by over-identifying with their work, and instrumentalizing their personal relationships and energies, curators risk self-exploitation and burn-out. By recognizing curating's inter-dependent nature, this article prompts a redefinition of curatorial care and calls for a reallocation of curatorial and institutional priorities and resources. Over the past decade, as government-funding cuts in neo-liberal regimes have increased following the global financial crisis, curators have become preoccupied by the question of where support for their work and projects comes from. In this context, curators' efforts to secure private, versus public, support have contributed to a redefinition of curatorial care in which the affective labour of human contact and interaction have displaced conventional curatorial responsibilities of conservation and scholarship. On the one hand, curators often prioritize their care for artists and artworks in ways that increase their own prestige, while ignoring their dependence on other activities across the production cycle. On the other hand, recent endeavours -ranging from curatorial research projects to museum group exhibitions and artists' initiatives -have emerged that shift attention from the gallery's mise-en-scène to the labour and infrastructure that happen out of view. Drawing on feminist social reproduction theory, and underlining the precarity that is central to immaterial labour, I ask how curators and institutions can better acknowledge the myriad activities that sustain their production, while also contesting the exploitation of their own and other people's supportive labour? Curating and Caring Discussions of curatorial labour regularly emphasize the link between curating and care, and the etymological roots of 'curating' in the Latin word curare for caring. Boris Groys (2009) goes as far as to suggest that artworks are sick, and that they need curators to cure them, and to give them public vitality and visibility. In many instances where curators assert the importance of care to their practice, both the nature and the object of curatorial care remain ambiguous. At the same time, the idea that curators preside 'over' something implies 'an inherent relationship between care and control', as Kate Fowle has noted (2007: 10). In the post-1960s period characterized by the rise of the independent curator, the associations of curatorial work with artworks' acquisition, conservation and scholarship expanded to include the affective labours involved with communication, liaison and social networking. Curators regularly mobilize their personal charm as a distinctly affective power, to attract artists and venues, motivate community collaborators, appeal to donors or enlist reviewers.1 In the hyper-politicized context of today's art world, where curators and institutional directors are subject to the changing agendas and priorities of state and local politicians, institutional boards, and private and corporate funders, deploying affective labour in order to maintain social relations is a key curatorial skill. Conversely, the requirement that such care be extended to cultural colleagues receives little priority. The regular supply of people who enter the art profession for low or no pay, as so much surplus labour, exacerbates the disparity between who is and is not cared for. Expending affective resources is central to immaterial labour, which depends on providing services, information and communication to produce and modify feelings,
doi:10.1386/jcs.5.1.6_1 fatcat:nnthazb3hbe27dtwqekw3toqua