Edited by Jani McCutcheon and Fiona McGaughey
Chapter 6: The curator’s copyright
The role of the curator has evolved in parallel with the development of contemporary art. No longer solely a caretaker of objects in an institutional collection, the curator is a caretaker of artists, audiences, artworks and the relationships in-between. With this expanded role, the line between the curator and the artist is increasingly blurred. Today the curator should be recognised as an auteur (or author) of exhibitions and associated programming. Where their methodology incorporates the output of the artist (or sometimes, even the artist themselves) the curator creates all-encompassing Gesamtkunstwerks – total works of art. This chapter considers how the curator can rely on the laws of copyright and moral rights to protect such total works of art. It does so to suggest that if these laws can protect such output, then the law could recognise the curator as an auteur. This chapter considers the paucity of case law dealing (albeit obliquely) with these issues, and a number of case studies investigating a specific genealogy of curatorial practice – the restaging and reinterpretation of historical exhibitions. In the absence of any clear judicial precedent, these restaged and recreated exhibitions draw attention to the fact that when it comes to curatorial practice, copyright and moral rights issues are present, albeit rarely addressed. Nevertheless, these exhibitions take important stands on the notion of contemporary authorship. They suggest that the central concerns of today’s curators are the right to be attributed and the right to not have their creative output treated in a derogatory manner, more so than the exclusive rights of copyright per se.
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