Being a curator is a frequently misunderstood job, because it is multifaceted and adaptive. It’s also a job that’s evolving fast because its very meaning is changing fast. Curating a design exhibition doesn’t just mean showcasing finished products, it also means telling a story, tackling an issue and its needs, exploring our material culture. To that end, we asked three Italian curators – Martina Muzi, Angela Rui and Federica Sala – to tell us about their work, outline their approach, and discuss one of their recent projects.
The role of a curator is rather like that of a conductor or filmmaker. There are so many potential types of exhibition - historical exhibitions, exhibitions on research (in Italy we need to try harder), commercial and experimental exhibitions, to lay bare the political aspects of design. Plus, thousands of different exhibitions can be worked around one single subject or theme, it depends on which aspect you think it important to highlight.
The role of an independent curator is different to that of an institutional curator – you need to be able to change register and not be identified by one single thing. When I take on a project, I like to evaluate the honesty and the quality of a work, the sincerity and the passions of a designer. One of the aspects I like best is having to discover and learn things I don’t know, study themes that I wouldn’t necessarily otherwise or don’t coincide with my personal point of view. Then there’s the matter of listening: you have to gain a deep understanding and never allow your own personality to prevail over theirs.
One of the fundamental bonuses of my work as a curator is the personal relationship you strike up with the authors. For example, I’m really pleased with my latest work with the Polish designer Marcin Rusak. The exhibition Unnatural Practice, held during Milan Design Week 2021, goes back a long way. The idea of working together first cropped up in 2016. I’d seen one of his exhibitions in Basel in 2016, we emailed each other, we got to know each other better, but couldn’t find a way of collaborating. The exhibition in September was a wonderful experience for all those who worked on it, and it was important for me from a professional point of view, and I think the same goes for him.