Working in a campus museum like The Art Galleries at Bucknell, I’ve learned that many surrounding university galleries follow a similar formula for staffing a smaller institution. Generally, there is a Director/Chief Curator, someone who manages facilities and maintenance, and if your lucky (we are!) we have a Head Registrar that works with our permanent museum collection.
Recently I was doing some research and came across The Suburban, an independently run artist exhibition space in Oak Park, IL. Normally when you hear words like “artist space” or “exhibition” you (or at least I do) think curator. You know, someone who ties that perfect “bow” around a collection of works and extends the “spark notes version” of their creative thinking via a didactic panel or public talk.
What stuck me as interesting about The Suburban is that its mission, after announcing its role as an exhibition space, says, “It’s a pro artist and anti curator site… In this, The Suburban is more closely aligned with the idea of studio practice than that of the site of distribution.” As if to say that curators and artists do not play for the same team?
Peter Ribic, son of The Suburban co-founders, recently contributed thoughts to the site’s “About” section, explaining that he hasn’t really figured out what to make of his adolescence, growing up with opening receptions in his backyard, sharing his home with artists, or explaining to friends what exactly his parents do. In a way, Ribic’s parents didn’t choose a career, they chose a lifestyle. I wonder how my involvement in the arts from a more “traditional” concept of museum professional has influenced my lifestyle? I suspect my normal and Peter’s to be polar opposites… and yet we both have art continually orbiting our everyday.
Would I call his parents curators? Maybe. It seems like they have certainly “curated” an experience for themselves and for Peter. Can a site then really ever be anti curator? What makes their experiences as anti curators different? Is it their choice to blur career versus lifestyle that makes them unique? When do these anti institutional sites become institutionalized? And, a certain power struggle seems to exists underneath the anti site versus the traditional.