Curating is just Another Word for TV

In the art world, curators have become the equivalent of the New York City water bug. You may not like it. But without, it wouldn’t be the real thing, wouldn’t it?

When I started writing about art, there were no curators. Now they are everywhere. They go to the same biennales; speak the same meaningless art language; and control the art world from within by privileging their creativity ahead of the artist’s. For 5,000 years art survived perfectly well without curators. Now they are its gate keepers.

Well, maybe not.

A real art curator at work: Francesco Bonami, with Damien Hirst piece in Doha.

A real art curator at work: Francesco Bonami, with Damien Hirst pieces in Doha.

The Internet, being a couple of thousand years younger than the art world, has a different take. The cure for information overload is coherent curation writes Steven Rosenbaum, founder and CEO of Magnify. He sees an upcoming Age of the Curation Economy, not too surprisingly. With Magnify being a curation platform for video publishing.

But hey, Rosenbaum is  right. An endless flow of information has to be tamed, somehow. Search is one way to do that: you look for something, actively. A server offers you a list, containing a subset of the whole Internet.

Curation is the opposite way of damming information overflow. You as the user are a passive connoisseur. It involves more of an act of taste by the curator, and less of any act by the user. You click on the curated whatever, and the show starts. Does this concept sound in any way familiar?

Sure. Your grandfather called it television (or radio, if the content lacked the visuals). A linear succession of audio-visual content, most thoughtfully selected by highly paid curators (which just went by another job title).

Looking at the numbers, this concept worked pretty well, for more than half a century. (Which, again, compared to the art world is a pipsqueak. Just long enough to move from expressionism to abstract expressionism.)

Manhattan, CA: as curated, in Las Vegas.

Manhattan, CA: as curated, in Las Vegas.

If TV networks are content curators by natures, does this mean they are future-proof? Not so fast.
The user experience may be close: lean back and enjoy. And creating a hit in a curated list is still the holy grail. Audience size does matter, even on the long-tailish Interwebs. But the granularity of the experience is quite different.

TV is like the shrink-wrapped Las Vegas-version of Manhattan:

  • a couple of high rise buildings (the networks) define the skyline.
  • cable is the former meatpacking district, neatly gentrified and thriving.
  • bridges and tunnels lead you into the intellectual wastelands of teleshopping, infomercials, and Fox News, the Jersey shores of television.

It’s a curated (and well gated) community. Some weird creatures might live there (see above: water bug). But, all in all, it’s like a Disney Cruise. Clean, fairly predictable, big business.

The Internets are more like a planetary sized urban sprawl, syncopated with steaming compost heaps, surrounded by the desert, mighty landfills and some nuclear dumps. LA, so to speak. After the Big One. There’s still no public transportation, but now the streets and highways look even worse than in NYC. You can drive for hours, and nothing is happening. Turn right, and get mugged. Make a left, and spend an exciting evening in a posh bar with pretty posh people. As there’s no GPS, you might be better of hiring a scout. A guide. A curator.

Curation in the age of television is a bit like curating a museum show. Yes, there are small and dusty places in the middle of nowhere, and there’s the Louvre or the Met. But it’s a predictable business.

Post-TV curation is all of the above. Now throw in some artist run spaces and some money laundering mafia gallerists, put in some community gardening and guided flea market cruising, a red light district and assisted flat rate drinking binges, and you might get the idea, why running a squeaky clean museum of almost modern art in Akron, Ohio does not make you all well prepared contender for becoming a successful curator in this a post-network TV world.

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