Curators Serving the Public Good

Martinon, Jean-Paul. 2021. Curators Serving the Public Good. Philosophies, 6, 28. ISSN 2409-9287 [Article]

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his article investigates a principle inscribed at the top of most codes of ethics for curators: they should always “serve the public good.” No self-respecting curator would ever admit to serve “the private good,” that is, the good of the few, whether that of an elite in power or of a circle of friends or allies. The principle of “serving the public good” is inalienable and unquestionable even in situations where it is most open to doubt. However, what exactly is the meaning of this seemingly “true” and on all accounts “universal” principle: “to serve the public good”? To address this question, I look at this principle for the way it is perceived as being both majestic in its impressive widespread acceptance and cloaked in ridicule for being so often disregarded. I will argue—with an example taken from the history of curating—that it is not the meaning attached to the principle that counts, but the respect that it enjoins. I conclude by drawing a few remarks on how the value of the “good” remains, after the principle has been cast aside and the priority of respect is acknowledged, a ghost on the horizon of all curators’ work.

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This essay was originally presented as a paper on 11 December 2020 as part of the Curating and the Curatorial Lecture Series organised by the School of Design of the Central Academy of Fine Arts (CAFA), Beijing, China. I hereby extend my heartfelt thanks to both Xiewei Song and Naiyi Wang for the invitation and for the discussion that followed.


curating; ethics; code of ethics; public good; Degenerate Art Exhibition

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Visual Cultures


16 December 2021Submitted
29 March 2021Accepted
1 April 2021Published

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Date Deposited:

09 Sep 2021 09:40

Last Modified:

09 Sep 2021 09:40

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Yes, this version has been peer-reviewed.


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