Kellner: I use Szeeman as an example because his practice straddles that of the institutional museum curator and that of the independent curator. Having founded and run several institutions Szeeman then also “stepped out” from the institution and represented the independent curator phenomenon that has increasingly become a widespread practice globally. Independent curators, while functioning with some very different obstacles (non-salaried, non-collection bound) are more closely associated with the star curator idea of a select number of curators internationally that curate mega exhibitions, biennials and are featured in art magazines, and perceived to be more in the market.
To be fair, I would also state that independent curators play a vital role in bringing visibility to, in this case, contemporary African art, and I believe that it is important to recognize this. Okwui for example has written extensively, curated some significant exhibitions and has brought a lot of attention to contemporary African art in Europe and the US as have others. Relating this idea more particularly to Szeeman, the two aspects of curating and the “exhibitionary complex” also suggest that there has been a changing role of institutions/museums. Increasingly, the traditional role of museums as collection-centered is being revisited to the extent that museums are more orientated towards entertainment complexes with high turnovers of high profile exhibitions that in turn feed into media, visitor numbers, ticket sales, merchandise and donors. These are very real questions for institutions today; and I am not commenting on whether these are positive or negative factors merely noting them.
Independent curators can play a role in rejuvenating museum spaces through independent projects and exhibitions but are increasingly involved in new private institutions and collections, the curating of Biennales and temporary exhibitions, which suggests a departure from the more traditional museum curator role. Of course there are exceptions but this is generally speaking a tendency. In one sense, the museum curators is working within a pre-defined framework institutionally and on a more sustained series of exhibitions that relate back within the institution and in turn on audience development and to some degree on growing the collection, whereas an independent curator while contributing knowledge has a form of mobility that while having impact may be less sustainable.