THE CONTEMPORARY WORLD IN A CHALLENGE FOR PRESERVATION

The catastrophe for the loss of the National Museum of Rio de Janeiro by a devastating fire last Sunday reopens the debate on the investment of resources in the maintenance of these institutions. This museum had 200 years of history, housed the largest collection of natural history and anthropology in South America and was the fifth gallery in the world for its funds, with a collection that exceeded 20 million pieces. Only the huge 5-ton meteorite has survived. Unfortunately, the centre's employees had been demanding for years more resources for conservation and maintenance, drastically reduced in 2014. On the night of the fire, only four guards watched the building. Something insufficient to put the fire under control or ask for help more in advance.

National Museum of Rio after the fire

This tragedy questions why the budget for culture is the first to suffer cuts when a country must adjust to the current economic situation. And at the same time, it also raises a question of responsibility on how the maintenance of all these collections can be sustainable in the long term, something that is increasingly costly. Numerous authors and analysts say that reducing investment is more harmful than beneficial, because it restricts the options for attracting new funds, limits the scope and involvement of citizens, and, above all, decreases the dissemination and enhancement of collections.

Royal Academy of San Fernando

Another recent case that raises questions about good management is the deterioration of the collection of the Royal Academy of San Fernando. The institution has been complaining for two years about the demolition and construction works of the Canalejas complex, located on the opposite sidewalk, which have damaged its aeration system and have introduced a huge amount of suspended dust that is now dropping on the paintings and sculptures of its rooms. The academy has closed to the public several rooms, waiting to restore the artworks and to ensure their conservation. Some critical voices point to the fact that the works undertaken in the area did not include an adequate plan on the consequences of the demolition, and that at the first signs of damage, the impact and the action-measures should have been re-evaluated.

Works in Canalejas

Likewise, it is striking that being Spain a country with such protectionist regulations of our cultural heritage, some actions, often irreversible, that involve a direct attack against the maintenance of goods, are allowed. The Canalejas complex that we mentioned above is today an empty shell of what was a group of historic buildings in this central block of the city. From a bird's eye view, we can only see the façades standing. The project, after several missteps, standstills, and administrative requalifications to eliminate the status of "protected" property, seemed to obey more economic-urbanistic criteria than the conservation of heritage.

Let's take all these examples as a lesson in life from which to draw good teaching. We make culture among everything and it is for everyone, beyond ourselves.

 

Among the specialised professional profiles that we find in the cultural sector, and more specifically, in the field of visual arts, one of the most recent occupations is that of the curator. The ‘80s put attention on the role of the artist, with its innovative character and the enhancement of its figure as an essential articulator of creative proposals, while the end of the century moved the interest towards the exhibition centres themselves and their work as custodians of current production and as spaces to accommodate all proposals. The change of millennium strongly introduced in this panorama the role of the curator. Perhaps together with a social identity crisis, perhaps with the complexity that contemporary projects are currently acquiring, the need for building, articulating and delving into artistic discourses became evident.

Although the functions entrusted to this profession are not entirely new, since previously they belonged to conservatives, critics or experts according to the themes, the role has gained solidity because it combines all these purposes while allowing the specialisation of other professionals in their fields of competence. Now, as some curators themselves point out, the genuine spirit of this figure, who was born to facilitate the understanding of the discourse, create narratives within a sometimes chaotic and scattered context, mediate between the works and the spectator and create bridges between contemporary art and society.

The art of our day raises a multitude of unknowns for the visitor who must face proposals many times away from the aesthetic standards, which gives way to uncertainty and confusion; but, in turn, these works employ a closer language, materials and even compositions detached from the sophistication and the technical display of yesteryear, something that, far from favouring proximity to the message, generates some distancing. What we have just described is part of the very essence of current art. The questioning of the formalist guidelines and the recourse to tangible elements that are more utilitarian than embellishing are the new criteria of creation, where, above all, the message to be conveyed stands out.

Likewise, another inherent characteristic of the work of our time is the artists' concern for more immediate themes, for social, political and economic issues that seek to create a narrative and conceptual revulsion, leaving behind the aesthetic priority or, rather, making of the message its own aesthetic. In this context, strange as it may seem, contemporary creation encounters a linguistic barrier hindering the viewer's understanding. And to this circumstance, the abundant current production is added, covering a wide range of themes that are nothing more than a transcript of our diverse and globalised society.

The curator helps to facilitate this understanding by articulating a coherent discourse that allows the grouping of related ideas to set up the message. This requires to have an in-depth knowledge of the current state of the art, the lines of work of the creators, the most recent aesthetic proposals and the real demands of society to bridge the dialogue and allow the approach to art. If art deals with the same issues that concern us all, how can we not share its postulates? Cultural mediation requires the work of the curators to open a small window for reflection and to enable a space for exchange and idea generation. We share the thought that José Guirao expressed in a recent interview: "The curator is someone who reveals something new, and it would be a mistake for curators to become managers."

Understood this way curator’s role, many institutions have joined the trend of creating specific calls for new professionals to give light to their proposals. Let us remember, as an example, the call "Unpublished" of La Casa Encendida, or "Curator wanted", of the Community of Madrid or the call of Curating of La Caixa.