15 August 2007

Curatorial Authority

During a major art exhibition in Manila sometime in 1994, top curators, major galleries and artists gathered to address the theme of the Filipina using the visual art as a medium.

A woman artist I represented in the exhibition arrived during the ingress period to install her artwork. The artist brought a sack of earth, some twigs, cloths, and quietly installed her work in her alloted space. When the artist finished in exhaustion, I viewed her work and marveled at her ability to transform ordinary objects into a powerful visual statement. However, two of my fellow curators approached me when the artist left and asked: "What is this?"

I was aghast. It is a work of art! What could it be? Could they perhaps expected the usual "fine art" paintings and sculptural pieces to sell the show?

This is the dilemma of curatorial authority. In a satire I made of the visual arts (Art Attack) that time, I referred to it as clueless posturing. The inability 'to read' visual works can be frustrating for a neophyte like me then. But to witness seasoned curators exercise weak curatorial judgment can be demeaning for the art community and affects their ability to promote excellence and educate the public.

This weakness can also be seen in museums with poor or weak collection. Not to mention museums without a collection (a museum exist to promote a collection) but runs purely on programs and services which should best be referred to as a gallery or an art space.

Looking back, I can still read and find meaning in that compelling installation work and know that true art does not need the studied gloss of the art market and its vague machineries. And I was not alone in that perception. An art critic singled out that particular work as the best in that exhibition. And the curators later invited the artist for exhibition. But then, nobody can ignore the impact of the artist and her works.

Allow me then to share with you that work of art that seek to address the issue of the filipina from the artist's own words and illustration (I do not have a photo documentation of it!). This is my tribute to the power of art and its timeless message:

"above the land/below the sky . . . as I know it"

The site is of self-constitution, connection and memory.
Both reaching back and stretching forward.
It is the site of hope for a clarity - -
a balance between desire and purpose
as well as the continued despair
for the violence given license by our families
and our government against ourselves.
(There seems to be some kind of amnesia
to pain in women's lives)

The images of women in despair - being chased.
Her job is immense as purveyor of the species
and at the same time she is bound
to the inescapable situation of victim and survivor
of other people's needs and demands.
In Filipino society her choices are few, her babies many.

Images of a small girl running in the mud.
The chase, the danger is her inheritance.

The Artist: Ann Wizer
Art Manila 1994
Shangri-la Plaza Mall