Under the Same Sun: Art from Latin America Today; exhibition on view at Museo Jumex in Mexico City from November 19, 2015 - February 7, 2016; which examines “typical” Latin American concerns such as; colonialism, social injustice, corruption, poverty, racism and borders has stirred up a wide range of critical responses from the art community.
While I agree with the general consensus that this is a failed attempt from the institution to position itself in a discourse centered around knowledge generating. I cannot help but make my way past this obvious concern and delve into a deeper issue that this particular case signifies; the problems with recycling curatorial projects. Under the Same Sun: Art from Latin America Today, was first exhibited at the Guggenheim Museum in New York in 2014, as curated by Pablo Leon de la Barra.
As commonly understood traveling exhibitions have become the norm within museums today, for an array of reasons; be it budgeting costs, short staff onsite, last minute curatorial conflicts that need to be resolved immediately, etc. All of which make it so that institutions such as the Smithsonian now provide a service that fully packages a curatorial project, and for a nominal fee distributes said project to your museum door ready to be exhibited; the package often includes didactics, programing and sometimes even proper display instructions.
While this sweet package deal might be a curator’s dream (we’ve all been there), the reality is that recycling exhibits is incredibly problematic for the core of our very practice. At first hand it may well seem like the best possible choice, but let’s consider its ramifications; on the one hand less curatorial concerns means that institutions can now afford to have smaller curatorial staffs. This in turn makes curatorial positions more scarce, and it leaves the next generation curators with less possibilities of making a living doing what they have been academically trained to accomplish for years of their lives.
In spending money for a fully pre-curated project and shopping around for ready made alternatives, institutions around the world are choosing to spend their budgets on research that has already been codified, on themes and topics that have already been discussed, and most importantly on not generating new knowledge. As is the case of Under the Same Sun: Art from Latin America Today where an institution in the United States generated a type of knowledge that was distributed to a specific audience, which was then poorly transplanted into a new context entirely.
This exhibition received harsh criticism as the knowledge built in NY cannot possibly be translated cohesively to the audience in Mexico City. Which is not to say people wont appreciate the artworks or understand the overall curatorial statement. However, taking into consideration the backgrounds of this two particular institutions and the audience that visits both museums, it becomes cynical even to propose that an American perspective on Latin America, can be presented in Latin America without expecting the new audience to feel objectified and apprehensive about learning themselves as a subject through an outsider’s perspective.
We live in a world on global converges, in part thanks to social media and the internet we can now be aware of aesthetic productions happening across the globe, which in turn fuels the institution with yearn and need to be ever present. It creates a number of challenges that curators are faced with every day, yet discussing a single topic within an institutional confine should not be a matter of picking it up on location Y and showing it on location X. Having a single conversation in multiple forums takes re-articulation and if the goal is to further engage an audience, it takes even more than that. It takes a complete restructuring of a subject to be represented accordingly to its new surroundings. No two conversations are ever the same.
In a scenario such as Under the Same Sun: Art from Latin America Today it is very clear that this recycled exhibition actually hurt the reputation of the both the host institution and the visiting institution, one more so than the other for obvious reasons. In bringing forth a pre-curated exhibit into a new space, the challenge thus becomes how not to force-feed upon the new audience what was already been digested by a previous audience in another location. After all no two audiences are the same, even in sister institutions in the same city.
The curatorial purpose in every institution should be the same; how to stay true to our audience and build upon the mutual trust to generate knowledge via aesthetic developments (or something similar). In recycling exhibitions, a curator is no longer conversing with her community, she is making choices on their behalf and taking a patronizing approach to engagement and community building.
As far as knowledge is concern, a wide range of institutions with or without education departments coin themselves as being a place of knowledge generation, a place where individuals can come and learn about more so than art but also about topics true to themselves. In an effort to stay relevant and actively engage their visitors’ museums today bend over backwards to gain popularity; anything from snapchatting to college night, museum speed dating, salsa and yoga lessons and even the less traditional come and sleep at the institution programming has emerged globally.
In recycling knowledge that has been produced elsewhere to engage someone else, curators today are doing the opposite of what they set out to do initially. In not generating new knowledge and not delving into new research, in not producing a new curatorial project the curator is thus failing to make a convergence that only she has the power to do in that setting.
Curatorial positions today are long endeavors that position an individual to make choices within an institution that affect the day to day museum logistics; thus a curator needs to create as much as an artist needs to. It is through the curator that different artists engage in one aesthetic discussion. It is through the curator that museums talk to the public; it is then the curator’s responsibility for the sake of our practice to surpass the norm and create aesthetic convergences that will allow artist, audiences and institutions to outdo their existing practices and generate transcendental knowledge in years to come.
CuratorLove Los Angeles | Jan 29, 2016