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

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Miguel_alvear: Cristóbal Zapata, with these antecedents and as invited juror to this salon, did you know what you were getting yourself into?

criszapata68: Yes, from the outset I feared the worst. But Ospinaí­s sample outdid any ill omen. When he invited me as juror (because it was he who put my name forward) he assured me that it would be as an adviser. Once I found out about his curatorial "thesis" I told him that "The artist and his time" was a very broad-spectrum it was an antibiotic and that he should develop and deepen it. It was all in vane. He chose everything himself, in the most indiscriminate fashion. But, let me end with this, I believed that, in these types of events, the jurors, as the curators, can remedy the situation, whether with their choice of selection or in overturning the original proposition, in some way they can exercise a certain critical position.

Miguel_alvear: Letí­s talk a little about the winning piece and the deliberation of the jury.

criszapata68: Fine, but before that, a sidebar: for me, in the flagrant ignorance of the role of curator and the mysterious resistance that his figure provokes exists the quiddity of many of the conflicts that exist in the local scene. He (the curator) is a figure that intimidates, in Grand Inquisitor style. The other day Manuela Ribadeneira made a comparison between an inept curator and a soccer coach. Well, it appears to me that when we discuss topics like curators belonging or not, or contemporary art (the Cuenca Biennial threatened a return to paintings) we are discussing them as we would the basic concepts of soccer. Topics that in other places are already settled and notarized.

The winning piece La Capilla del hombre: el tamaño si importa (The chapel of man: size does matter), by Roberto Jaramillo, is a panoramic photo (digitally altered), a sort of big angular shot of a room in this museum created by Guayasamin, in the center of which you see the artist (Jaramillo) seated on a hyper-trophylike armchair (in the style of Carroll or Swift), like a mocking goblin insinuated and misplaced in the grandiloquent immensity of a sacred enclosure, where what stands out are the "celebrated phrases" of Guayasamin, that refer to the vision of the artist as guru, prophet or enlightened one. What we, as members of the jury, considered is that Jaramilloí­s "profane gesture" (to profane — albeit virtually — a sacred place), as well as being fresh, pertinent and opportune, articulated well with the convocation. And, although we were conscious of the ambiguity and complex relationship between the works and the curatorial theses in all the large events, I believe what most interested us, and what we awarded a prize or a mention to, were the proposals that risked visions regarding "the artist and his time", views that are intimately connected to the languages of contemporary art in its record and vision of time. In addition to Jaramillo, Erika Neira, Daniel Adoum, Patricio Ponce, Juana Cordova, others who, without receiving awards or being nominated, took seriously the saloní­s thesis: David Santillan, Patricio Palomeque, Gabriela Bernal, for example.

Miguel_alvear: Maria Fernanda, you were involved in a project to reorganize the Salon Mariano Aguilera. What did that consist of and what happened?

mfcartagena: 8 years ago the question was how to modernize it, given that its foundations were very constrained by the sole genre classification. The new artistic practices with their hybrids and meldings couldní­t find an adequate space. The Mariano Aguilera, for different reasons, has been, over the course of its history (it began in 1917), converted into the most important event for the arts at the national level. Several modern art masters were recognized early on and, with its highs and lows, it has been represented as a reference point for the local circuit. The project of restructuring the Salon came up in 1998, but was not taken up until some years later. Its new organization broached the stimulation of curatorial and contemporary art practices, as efficient methods of strengthening the local scene. If the structure, curatorial modality, is now the most suitable, taking into account that, at present, it is a legitimate, established and "traditional" practice, the event has still not grown.... what wasní­t taken into account is that the organizers were not prepared to assume that management. They simply doní­t know what curatorial practices are and/or what contemporary art is.

rodolfito104: In our precarious position, if weí­re practical, I would have, at least, convinced the institutions of the following: every salon should pass through a strict selection process, only then could it seriously plan for the future, and only then would it encourage the most established artists, who doní­t participate because the space showing their works will be shared with others that are of little merit.

Miguel_alvear: In Ecuador there exists quite a bit of bad feeling with regard to the practices used by cultural institutions, above all in relation to todayí­s art. Maria Fernanda, could you talk about this bad feeling and delineate a little of the causes/reasons?

mfcartagena: Basically, it implicates institutions being in the hands of bureaucrats; individuals with certain interests in the arts but whose first loyalties are to their political parties, or individuals (in charge) who didní­t keep up with current thinking and who are extremely prejudiced toward the different postures that exist with regard to art today. Nevertheless, the institutions have been able to carry out important projects, without continuity, but thatí­s a symptom of contemporary art in Ecuador. Take, for example, Ataque de Alas (Attack of Wings), organized by the MAAC (Museo Antropológico y de Arte Contemporáneo). The independent spaces are options that sadly doní­t have the planning and development capacity of an institution. The MAAC has great potential, thereí­s no doubt about it. To mention a few: to attract patronage, build an audience, introduce themselves into international circuits, their patrimony, etc., etc. Nevertheless, ití­s hard work over the medium to long term if thereí­s no coherence at the higher policy-making levels. Another problem has to do with the fact that Ecuador is not on the contemporary art map, resulting in the vicious circle of lack of production, lack of spaces, lack of incentives. There is interesting production, solid production but, in general, ití­s contingent production. To date, the conditions havení­t been right in order to sustain it and promote it in a more adequate fashion.

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