Public perception of curators goes something like this: selecting “pretty” artworks for display, and regaling visitors with information about them. Surely, this can’t be all they get paid to do.
We spoke with internationally-renowned curator and curatorial director of Chan+Hori Contemporary, Khai Hori, to shed light on this enigmatic role.
While the common perception holds some truth, the job of a curator actually extends much deeper.
“Exhibitions are both a display and an experience…[they should] unfold [themselves] to the visitor” Khai describes. With every exhibition, curators are responsible for bringing visitors on a journey.
From temperature of lights, to their intensity, to the height at which the artwork is hung – every detail is considered. Curators are even responsible for nitty-gritty logistical details like getting plane tickets for artists or arranging transportation for artworks.
Khai personally believes that curators also play a significant role in the professional development of artists and curatorial teams.
One instance of this was during D/SINI, a 9-month long outdoor art exhibition and festival by Chan+Hori in 2018; Khai gave MashUp, young local fashion designers, the opportunity to explore a different medium – sculptures. Despite their lack of experience, Khai generously allocated their project the largest budget to manifest their vision of a 12-meter tall sculpture.
The final result – a quirky but functional pavilion titled Nenas Estate – garnered attention island-wide with its instagrammable aesthetics and was the lynchpin of the exhibition. This success afforded the designers opportunities to venture deeper into the art world; they were even commissioned to craft sculptures for Sentosa and the Asian Civilizations Museum!
The above is just one example of Khai’s efforts in empowering artists. Khai has a penchant for the underdogs, often seeking out under-represented artists and unconventional works for his exhibitions. He believes in shaking up the norms to ensure that the arts scene here never stagnates.
To do this, Khai is unapologetic with his opinions.
He shares the story behind a travelling exhibition curated for the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) – Atypical Singapore. Khai’s ideas for the exhibition were drastically different from STB’s original suggestion, and much more costly. However, Khai stood firm, refusing to compromise his artistic direction. This move paid off – STB proceeded with his ideas, and the travelling exhibition has been a roaring success.
Beyond curating art, Khai is responsible for grooming the potential of artists, curatorial teams, and propelling the arts scene in Singapore and the Asian region forward.