Daniel Benshana

A curator recently applied to run an exhibition at a major gallery in the UK. The exhibition was of interest to the Mayor’s office of the city and the culture team at the City Council, which meant the show could have been part of a city wide series of allied events with the gallery at the centre of the plans. This curator approached the gallery with two other members of his team. They were two white men and one anglo-Indian. The plans were turned down for the main space in the gallery despite the power of the idea, because the curators were not diverse enough.
At the same time I met him, I had just read about Quentin Crisp and his antagonism to the Gay Rights movement. He said he didn’t know what gay rights meant. All these movements around the world which give voice to minorities are actually all asking for human rights. As pressure groups they have a place, but what they are fighting for belongs to us all.
Galleries are forced to look at the criteria and objectives of funders, rather than at the art. This is artificial cultural engineering. We are at the point where artists are dealing with middle men to get their work exhibited and those middle men lack all imagination. It is a politically dangerous place for our culture to be.
If we are making decisions based on the ethnicity, gender, colour, orientation or disability of the curators and not of their humanity, shared by us all, and the strength of the idea they bring to exhibit that humanity, we are failing. We are subdividing the nation and by so doing making the whole idea of ‘nation’ meaningless.
And it doesn’t make prejudice go away.
Because prejudice rests upon ideas of who we are and who they are. Nothing else. And you cannot turn people away because of what they are not. That is also prejudice. You can only ever turn artists down because they are not good artists. And you put on a show because they have achieved in their art the communication of their ideas that speaks to us all and transcends their individual experience.
We have allowed corporate and state funding that demands boxes be ticked as a matter of over-riding importance and by so doing we have given birth to generations of artists who are good at filling out funding applications. They have forgotten how to write detailed and vital manifestos and get them published – despite the existence of the Internet. They have been infantilised into believing making money makes you an artist. Ha!

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