Slavoj Zizek writes in his book The Ticklish Subject (p.237): “Is not the ultimate example of reflexivity in today’s art the crucial role of the curator? His role is not limited to mere selection – through this selection, he (re)defines what art is today. That is to say: today’s art exhibitions display objects which, at least for the traditional approach, have nothing to do with art, up to human excrement and dead animals – so why is this to be perceived as art? Because what we see is the curator’s choice. When we visit an exhibition today, we are thus not directly observing works of art – what we are observing is the curator’s notion of what art is; in short, the ultimate artist is not the producer but the curator, his activity of selection.”
Two points should be made.
First, the curator-as-creator is an overstatement. Curators play many different roles. And many would not describe what they do as creating on par with what artists do.
Second, reflexivity concerning what is and what is not art does not stop with curators, but is continued by art critics, art historians, artists and the general public. The curator’s choice does not come out of thin air; she or he is part of discursive networks on art, other members are artists, art critics, art historians, the general public and their institutions.
In conclusion, Zizek’s use of reflexivity is too limited as he portrays curators as autonomous in his story.