Representing Contemporary Art Exhibition Curators: An Impossible Collective Mediation?

By Laurent Jeanpierre, Isabelle Mayaud, Séverine Sofio

It is generally thought that collective representation poses many problems in cultural professions for the following reasons: the individual nature of work and careers, employment insecurity, weak unionization, and significant differences between jobs. This view has been tested by studying an association created in 2007 in order to defend the interests of contemporary art exhibition curators in France. Our analysis is based on the archives of the association, studies of its general meetings, and the results of a recent sociological survey on the exhibition curator profession in French contemporary art circles. Developed over the last thirty years, this profession is not very formalized today and particularly dynamic. The number of people working in the field was estimated to be close to a thousand, the majority are independent workers who do not make a living from it, or do so only with difficulty. We wish to question the social and political conditions that led to the creation of the association studied, as well as the obstacles it met as it developed, particularly in exhibition curator circles. This case study brings to light two factors necessary to explain these difficulties rather than the generic social factors held responsible for limiting action and collective representation in cultural professions: the gap between the social characteristics of candidates for spokesperson positions and of those that they potentially represent, and the role of the State, which is not always in a position to make the long-term investments necessary for the autonomy of the representatives whose development it supported, as is the case of the association studied here.

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