Curate It Yourself: Challenging the art world's power relationships

Last month, Italian curator Francesco Bonami hit the headlines claiming that over the last decade curators have become “self-delusional” and “irrelevant” to the art market and to the careers of artists. To a certain extent, Pietro della Giustina, president of Curate It Yourself, seems to agree with Bonami, “nowadays, curators are somewhat forced to step aside: when artists enter prestigious collections through big collectors, it might give them more legitimacy than the fact of having exhibited with a renowned curator.”

Inspired by La Peau de l’Ours — an independent group of collectors founded by André Level in 1904, which eventually turned into one of the first truly successful art funds in art history — Curate It Yourself, a  Paris-based non-profit association was born in 2015 out of a desire, on the part of a group of young curators and art world enthusiasts, to shake the power relationships existing in the art world and promote younger talent, specifically artists born after 1980, including, among others, artists as diverse as Giorgia Severi, Ben Elliot, Célia Gondol and Davide Mancini Zanchi.

If Curate It Yourself does not aim to discover the Picassos and Matisses of the generation Y, the association still has the ambitious goals of curating original exhibitions — something they have done, until now, maintaining their independence from third-party actors; “Whilst we would welcome the support of outside investors, we are, for the most part, self-financed, and all the decisions we make are to our credit — or discredit.” Partisans of the self-made model, the group behind Curate It Yourself also recognizes and promotes interdependence between artists and curators: “Our exhibitions are organized around three poles: the artists we choose to work with, our material possibilities and our very own ideas as curators. We want to enter the current debate surrounding the role of art curators, but our artists always come first.”

Not only is the group reluctant to rely solely on institutions in order to acquire its legitimacy, but they are also eager to break down the barriers existing between artists, collectors and gallerists by positioning themselves as an active mediator between these figures: “We wanted to offer an alternative to the figure of the curator-demiurge: for us, a curator is somebody who interacts with the different personalities of the art world, creating an harmonious relationship with artists they work and share values with”. Pietro explains, “each year we choose a group of artists we want to work with in the next year. We do not want to be associated with a particular gallery and our relationship with artists is based on human connection and mutual trust: our choices are not based on their market value.”

In many ways, Curate It Yourself is a platform that encourages the professional growth of curators and artists by creating artistic challenges for both. The “triumvirate” of curators, composed of Della Giustina and fellow curators Claudia Buizza and Jacques Heinrich Toussaint aim to challenge artists by pitching ideas and projects that encourage them to somewhat exit their comfort zones. One such example includes  “Contrat clé en main — Turnkey Contract”, a project presented by the group earlier this year at Poppositions Brussels, where artists were asked to “work to tight deadlines and with media — video, photo montage, text — that are not necessarily part of their usual creative process.” With this project, the group also wanted “to question the negative side of the art market, which we believe identifies, to some extent, with certain collectors, specifically those who have the power to influence institutions and artists’ careers.”

Based on the theme of the “wrong sides” of both the art market and everyday life, the Brussels project not only offered artists new ways of looking at their practice, but also encouraged a reflection on the role of the collector. The 127 proposed pieces, in the form of digital actions — each available for sale on a USB drive — were sold to visitors with the only condition, on the part of the buyer, to respond to the “action” with a “re-action”, be it an email, a video, a photo or simply a message. The dialogue between artists and collectors, mediated by the group of curators, constitutes the actual piece of art, giving new life to the initial piece and creating an actual conversation between the artist and the buyer.

“We wanted to put artists and collectors on the same level and to explore the relationship between artists, collectors and curators”. Similarly with the 2015 project “The Making of an Exhibition” — almost an exhibition of an exhibition, aimed to “reveal the process behind the final product,” says Toussaint “we looked at the relationship between artists, curators and galleries instead.”

The association’s current endeavour is “The Garden Series”, once again a project that looks to “stand out” from the more “traditional” initiatives taking place in the Parisian artistic panorama. Described as an “in-between” format, the series of exhibitions, which take place just outside the French capital, will be the first time the curators will work on solo projects rather than on group exhibitions. “The Garden Series” season debuted on June 18 with a solo show by artist Anna Tomaszewski, a project that “turned the premises of the exhibition itself on its head.” With a number of exciting projects aligned, both in France and internationally, Curate It Yourself thinks big, and it will certainly go places.

The Garden Series - Anna Tomaszewski