Farrell: I concur with Christopher’s sentiments on the value of dialoguing with the artists and making attempts to honor their respective artistic visions. I would add that curatorial decisions sometimes rely on the nature of the work. As more artists move towards time-based experiences, installation and new media their works come with specific installation parameters. Recently I worked with artist Kader Attia on a video installation for the 2010 Abraaj Capital Art Prize exhibition in Dubai. Attia was very precise about the dimensions of the black installation cube (which formally recalled the Kaaba), the placement of his readymade “Dome of the Rock” sculpture within the interior, the type of camera recording the sculpture as a live feed, the projection size and height, the sound quality, and the location of the video installation within the available exhibition space. To Attia, each variable bore great importance on the success of the work. As part of the donation package to Abraaj Capital we were also asked to submit an installation guide so that Attia’s conditions could be respected at subsequent venues. It is becoming increasingly common for artists’ institutional gifts to be accompanied with specific guidelines and restrictions.
Having said that, many panelists would probably agree that as curators we need to be able to make the final decision on where and how to exhibit an artwork, as long as such decision doesn’t discount the integrity of the piece. As much as we like to engage artists there can be issues with objectivity and experience. Not every artist understands how work translates in space, or can impact sight lines, narrative, traffic patterns, or other curatorial considerations. So, the truth of where agency resides between curators and artists can vary depending upon whether it is a temporary exhibition, a permanent collection gallery, or a site-specific piece. John Picton once proclaimed that the messier the story gets, the closer we may be to the truth.
At the ACASA conference in 2007 I remember a curator stating that she was disappointed that her museum was planning to install an El Anatsui piece near a Mark Rothko painting rather than placing it in the more historical African art galleries. I could sense unease amongst curators in the audience. So I raised the question about how Anatsui felt about being placed near Rothko since in fact he is still with us and can offer an opinion. Panelists here surely understand and contend with institutional agendas, or patron’s desires as they pertain to permanent collection matters, but openness to understanding affinities between artworks that transcend nationalism may promote growth in our field.