Accepted Paper:

The Ethical Art Museum Curator: from Ethnographer to Ethnographer  


Emily Pringle (Tate Gallery)

Paper short abstract:

This paper problematises the model of the curator as traditional ethnographer, exploring and presenting The Other and argues for an alternative construction wherein curatorial knowledge is generated self-consciously and collaboratively in relation to broader social and political contexts.

Paper long abstract:

The 1989 Magiciens de la Terre exhibition in Paris has been described as the first 'global' exhibition of contemporary art. The curator Jean-Hubert Martin adopted an ethnographic approach, with his 'fieldwork' and curatorial presentation of non-western art being allied to an anthropological sensibility. The show was, however, critiqued for failing to acknowledge power politics and imposing a new and highly flawed cultural imperialism (1); criticisms that have been applied to the field of anthropology itself .

Taking this exhibition as a starting point, this paper critiques the curator as ethnographer model on ethical and epistemological grounds. It argues that a curatorial enterprise premised on a traditional ethnographic model whereby The Other is located as distinct research subject is problematic. Instead curators should look to current ethnographic approaches which acknowledge 'that messy, uncertain multi-voiced texts, cultural criticism and new experimental works will become more common, as will more reflexive forms of fieldwork, analysis and intertextual representation.' (2) Mindful of these, the paper presents an alternative model, drawing on McClintock's idea of the Scholar Practitioner (3), whereby the ethnographic curator is defined by their values, personal commitment and ethical conduct and whose knowledge is developed and explicated through collaboration and active exchange within broader organisational, political and cultural contexts.

(1) Fowle, K. (2015). 'Action Research: Generative Curatorial Practices' in O'Neill, P. & Wilson, M. Curating Research.

(2) Denzin, N. & Lincoln, Y. (2013). The Landscape of Qualitative Research. P.31

(3) McClintock, C. (2007). 'Encyclopedia of Distributed Knowledge: Scholar Practitioner Model'.

Panel P109
Curating with an Anthropological Approach