A peculiarity of the current field of curating is an ongoing contestation over the very meaning of “to curate.” As Alice said in Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking-Glass, “The question is whether you can make words mean so many different things.” Humpty Dumpty answers, “The question is which [meaning] is to be master—that’s all.”
On the cover of this issue is Thomas Ruff’s 1989 portrait of a young Hans Ulrich Obrist. If this fresh-faced guy has done more than most to consolidate the identity of the curator—as a ubiquitous, cosmopolitan character, tirelessly promoting him- or herself, an exhibitionist of the global age—he has also presided over that identity’s confusion and multiplication. Is the curator, as Obrist often describes the role, a catalyst? Or is she, to quote Obrist’s frequent collaborator Suzanne Pagé, a modest commis de l’artiste, an “artist’s clerk”?