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Curatorial Practices
Conversations: A chat room with 4 curators and critics from Ecuador
by Miguel Alvear

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For some years now, the role of the state-run cultural institutions in Ecuador have been questioned in order to better meet the demands of the contemporary art scene in that country. Many artists, curators and critics maintain that these institutions' fragile structures are incapable of supporting, stimulating and diffusing the local artistic production. It is an art scene that witnessed a distancing of the traditional forms of management and understanding from those that these institutions have been accustomed since the end of the nineties. These inquiries have managed to provoke some displacements. For example, the Cuenca Biennial, the most important international art event in Ecuador, now accepts works of art in mediums and strategies other than paint oon canvas. Meanwhile, some of the most prominent Salons have revised their mechanisms of convocation and selection. However, these achievements are seen as insufficient and with the opening of each Salon or institutional event, the bad feeling resurges and manifests itself in icy polemics.

Motivated by the last edition of the Salon Mariano Aguilera, hosted by the Metropolitan Cultural Center, Ecuadorian artist, Miguel Alvear, invited a group of the country's young critics and curators to converse in a chat room about their perspectives and opinions in relation to the public handling of contemporary art in Ecuador. The invited "chatters" were:

Rodolfo Kronfle, art historian and critic, who publishes a weekly contemporary art column in the city of Guayaquil's El Universo newspaper; Maria Fernanda Cartagena, curator and art historian and, until recently, the Museum Director of the House of Ecuadorian Culture; Maria del Carmen Carrion, curator of the controversial "Divas de la Tecnocumbia" project, produced by the City Museum (Quito); Cristobal Zapata, art critic and ex-curator of the Cuenca International Painting Biennial.

Miguel_Alvear: I'd like to start out talking about the Salon Mariano Aguilera, since it has stirred up a lot of controversy. Maria Fernanda Cartagena, I would first like your general appraisal of the event.

mfcartagena: I think that the Salon Mariano Aguilera is destined to fail if the organizers don't revise the mechanisms whereby they select curators, and don't permanently seek to generate work from every different sector. I would suggest a well funded Advisory Council of specialists, who throughout the year, sets about designing strategies. That way you don't improvise content and the administrative efforts take their course. Regrettably, to date, the majority of curatorial positions have been entrusted to individuals who have no background or interest in contemporary art, curatorial experience or critical thought. Thusly, a certain amateurism is evident. It has furthered the dangerous notion that to organize a collective show, based on a theme, is to demonstrate curatorial direction. There's a massive void with regard to the arguments and theses upon which the works are structured. In the last edition, where Omar Ospina was in charge, it was clear that the good graces of an aficionado was not enough, the result of which was only depressing criticism. The audiences were confronted with nearly one hundred mounted works, the great majority of which were very poor quality and belonging to disjointed artistic circuits, all of which ended up looking poorly due to the conceptual entanglements. Obviously, that doesn't represent the reality of contemporary art in Ecuador and the show nullifies any possibility of building an audience.

Miguel_Alvear: Rody, you've been publicly very critical of this salon...

rodolfito104: In my article in El Universo, I concentrated on the reasons behind the disaster: lack of institutional criteria (the motive for a separate analysis into the crisis of cultural institutions in the country) and lack of curatorial criteria. Regarding this last point, I came to the conclusion that the curatorial model remains - for the moment - central at the Salon Mariano. I believe that what we're looking at here, beyond the chaos of this past event, is the pinnacle of the internal struggles of a small cultural sphere, especially in regard to conservation, or the recycling of reduced cultural spaces. There are at least two circuits that should function in independently and that are clashing for this reason.

Miguel_Alvear: To which two circuits do you refer?

rodolfito104: On one hand, I'm refering to producers that have embraced tremendously heterogeneous artistic practices, hybrid methods of production, wider strategies of insertion and a critical consciousness that is very distinct from the artists that today form part of what many call "tradition", its a very diverse group, but one that maintains the common thread of an almost exclusive use of the means of production based on the old fine arts system (painting, sculpture, drawing, etc.), a compass that has "originality" pointing north, a romantic sense of artistic "expression", an ambition for achieving a "style" or visual grammar easily identifiable by the public, and a complacency for basic market logic, a production-sales cycle that does not necessarily have the ingredient of social, cultural or artistic reflection incorporated in the work's conception, nor in the impact of its reception nor circulation.

Miguel_alvear: What is your opinion of the curatorial statement?

rodolfito104: I think that we all agreed that the problems were imminent the moment we read the statement. Apart from the profession of the person who produced it, his name or his background, it was evident that his articulation displayed huge gaps of knowledge and was especially charged with biases and prejudices towards contemporary art. Many criticisms have been made and, to date, the curator fails to see any other point of view and maintains an intransigent defensive posture. What's more serious is that the curator - who has the time to do it - has persisted in publicly twisting ideas, with a Manichean attitude, attempting to transform the complex debate on local artistic production into one of us against them. The level of incomprehension between the two circuits that I mentioned is such - their motivations and interests so distinct - that I believe that it is an error to propitiate any kind of debate just to see who is "right." In reality, each circuit has to maintain the course that its circumstances determine for it. I'm again thinking that the clashes are produced fundamentally because both work within the same "scarce" spaces.

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