Curation: Pros and Cons

As I’ve mentioned before, prior to this class, I really didn’t have a clue as to what “curation” or a “curator” actually was. For my art class, each week we have to watch an assigned video, typically a documentary on a specific artist, and come up with a creative response to it. This past week, we watched “Jean-Michel Basquiat: The Radiant Child.” In a nutshell, Jean-Michael Basquiat’s story is the textbook definition of “rags to riches.” At 17, he started off as nothing more than a graffiti artist who was living on the streets of New York City and living off of cheese doodles. Two years later, after both his work and his charming personality began to give him a reputation, his art was being sold in galleries worldwide, rewarding him over $200,000+ in just one showing. Basically, the young African American artist and former street dweller flourished for the following six years. The next two were met with a combination of drug use and negative criticism from the art world, bringing both his career and his life to an end. 

What struck me at the conclusion of this documentary was the true influence of curators, and in turn, curation, on Basquiat’s life. It was his own unique and unintentional act of curation that ignited his fame – his specific choices of color, of drawings, of random words or phrases, and even the obscure surfaces on which he chose to express himself all came together to form the style he remains famous for today. Beyond that, if it weren’t for the many art curators who took a liking to his work, it never would have traveled beyond the walls of downtown Manhattan. Curators ranging from NYC to Los Angeles to Western Europe all made the executive decision that Basquiat’s art was something they wanted to add to their collection – that despite its daring newness and countless differences from popular art at this time, it would nonetheless add to their gallery. 

In contrast to the curators who brought him success, it was also curators that brought about his demise. After getting caught up in the party life, befriending celebrities like Andy Warhol and Madonna, his work began to subside. More and more museums and their curators began expecting brilliant work from Basquiat and at a faster pace, and in the end, he couldn’t deliver. Before he knew it, less and less figures in the art world were interested in him, with any work that he did produce being harshly criticized. The amount of time between his art shows was steadily increasing, and he eventually overdosed at age 27. 

While this summary sounds a little depressing, the documentary is not as much so, and is actually pretty amazing and I recommend anyone to watch it in their free time. This was my first real look at a genuine act of curation, as well as people who actually do it as a profession. While curation obviously does not always present itself and results such as this, I just found it pretty interesting that such a process could have such a tremendous effect on one’s life. 

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