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Curatorial work is a jumble of creative, bureaucratic, affective, analytical, diplomatic, manual, theoretical, and organizational labor. While we often treat the intellectual work around creating an exhibition critically and inventively, I wonder what could happen if we also embraced our more administrative tasks this way?

This question has been on my mind increasingly as I watch curators take up the subject matter of politics, economy, and social engagement inside recent exhibitions. Why is there such a disconnect between what curators do and how they do it? What if for every utterance of Marxist theory in a catalogue essay, wall text, or a press release there was also an attempt behind the scenes to allocate inside the exhibition budget a reasonable wage for the labor of everyone involved?

It is assumed that the socially transformative aspect of our work resides in the theoretical or representational propositions inside our exhibition making. But over time I’ve come to think that where we might actually make a difference is rather in a tacit subversion of the status quo in our more practical affairs.

What if we routinely lent out unused exhibition space between shows or after hours to social organizers in need of a meeting place? Borrowed models of participatory budgeting from local politics so that artists and audiences worked with us to decide where the funding is spent? Donated our research materials or left over resources to aligned causes or organizations who could still put them to good use well after exhibitions end ? Realized that the skills that we use everyday inside our profession are also directly transferable to organizing in the more political sense of the word.

Curators rely on artists to think through the relationships between form and content on every level inside their work. In my ideal art world artists would also be able to rely on curators to do just the same.


Laurel Ptak


The Brooklyn Rail

FEB 2013

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