Farrell: During a recent lecture at SCAD, Metropolitan Museum of Art curator Gary Tinterow stated: “At one time all artists have been contemporary.” He made this statement in reference to the Met’s more historical permanent collection holdings in relationship to the recent buzz over their contemporary art on the roof installation series. Tinterow makes a valid point.
Over time I have become less interested in the way curators and colleagues have dissected and defended language and focused rather on how their work (e.g. exhibitions / initiatives) defined their position. We can use language in branding exercises and sound bites but the proof is in the final product. And while we all participate in writing educational and promotional materials we also need to keep the artists in the dialogue (when they are still alive and able to speak for themselves) and to ask them how they position themselves and their work. Who do they see as their contemporaries? For those working with an artist’s estate posthumously hopefully documents and interviews exist to provide entrée into the artist’s worldview.
As curators we have the responsibility of asking ourselves, are we really engaging with the art? Are we giving artists new opportunities to express themselves creatively? If you are working with artists in a proactive manner the language used to describe the work will hopefully come from a more informed place. And let’s not forget the museum visitors. In the end isn’t it important that viewers still be given space to make their own connections and associations with art? We can label work contemporary, but visitors may still go on to consider Odundo’s pots in the same vein as the Ga’anda vessels mentioned previously by Marla. Both were certainly contemporary at one point. No matter what we do or say, opinions may always be influenced by the context in which the work is shown.