i.e., both curators curated their significant others
Congratulations to Hili Perlson and Julia Halperin from artnews, for their uncovering of nepotism at the high echelons of contemporary art.
This year’s Venice Biennale and documenta 14—the two most high-profile contemporary art events in the world—have quite a bit in common. Both eschew art-market darlings in favor of obscure discoveries; both are heavy on music, sound art, and performance; and both seek to reinforce the healing power of art. But there is another, perhaps more surprising, overlap: both shows include work by the curator’s significant other. The Polish curator Adam Szymczyk, the artistic director of documenta 14, included his partner, the choreographer Alexandra Bachzetsis, in the quinquennial exhibition’s performance program. Meanwhile, the French curator Christine Macel included the work of her partner, the Italian-born, France-based artist Michele Ciacciofera, in the Venice Biennale’s central exhibition, “Viva Arte Viva.”According to the reporters, the coincidence,
... illustrates the extent to which the art world is built on close personal relationships between artists and curators. But some have questioned the wisdom of these curators’ choices at a time when nepotism and conflicts of interest are increasingly scrutinized and the art industry has grown more professionalized.Not choices, "poor" choices.
It would be clear to anyone, that a curator should not, include a family member, lover, or significant other (whatever that means) in a project they organize.
Why not? At a simple level, artistic merit and favoritism are procedural enemies: the first is autarchic and self-sufficient, the second is biased and dependent.
A conflict of interest happens when personal interests clash with judiciary obligations. As curators of documenta 14 and the Venice Biennale, both Szymczyk and Macel have the obligation to conduct themselves in a manner that reflects the highest standards. The "poor" choice of including their respective lovers doesn't reflect the best standards of selection. It speaks of a disconnect that mirrors contemporary art's identity crisis.
This is documenta 14's awkward disclosure to artnews' follow-up:
Alexandra Bachzetsis, who already participated in documenta 13 in 2012, was invited to documenta 14—like every curatorial decision in the process of documenta 14—based on the Artistic Director’s and curatorial team’s belief in the importance of the artist’s practice in the context of themes, interests, and urgencies of documenta 14. This decision does not violate any "code of conduct" of documenta gGmbH.The documenta 14 komunikat smells of rancid arrogance. What does (being invited to) documenta 13 have anything to do with (being invited to) documenta 14? Bachzetsis' artistic merit is thrown into question the moment her invitation happens under the directorship of her boyfriend. This is what perceived conflict of interest does. But even for the sake of artistic diversity, one should argue against an artist being selected for two consecutive documentas!*
The inclusion of Szymczyk's and Macel's partners puts both artistic directors under the shadow of nepotism (that's when the conflict ends up benefiting one's "family"). And there's no way out of it.
From the top of the art pyramid to the top of the political pyramid (übercurators could learn something here):
The instant president Trump fired FBI's director James Comey, he walked into the swampland of conflict of interest (in this case leading to possible abuse of justice, but we just want to stress the conflict itself). Though many people, including rank leading democrats disliked Comey, what's at stake is that when he was fired, Comey was investigating a possible collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians. A smart Trump (thinking already about firing Comey) would have understood the danger of perceived conflict and (since the innocent have nothing to lose) let things take their course.** Not this president. And "perceived conflict" is a stubborn fellow. That's why invoking Rod Rosenstein's recommendations as the reason behind the dismissal (which the president disavowed later) did nothing to assuage the public's perception of conflict. See how conflict now mushrooms: One could argue that it's this perception of conflict, now on behalf of Rosenstein (who is "to gain" by Comey's dismissal) that made the former to appoint a special prosecutor (in this case, not only to heed the best course of action, but also avoid the perception that he's Trump's henchman, which is what the president intended).
In a perverse way, Trump, Szymczyk and Macel have something in common: they are individuals with power making "poor" choices.
Trump was clear about it, "I'm the president."
What's Szymczyk's excuse? "I'm the artistic director of documenta 14"?
Yeap. Impunity dwells in a clear sentence.
* Just like an artist should not win a grant twice in a row from the same grantor. If you click here, you find the process to be admitted to the Venice Biennale for British artists. It seems a lengthy and careful process. Not bad. The selection process needs checks and balances to avoid unfairness. And unfairness means selecting (or not selecting) someone for the wrong reasons. **Learning from Trump's mistakes, what should a smarter Szymczyk (or Macel) have done when presented with these "choices"?