Curators Voice: Laurel Ptak

Curators Voice: Laurel Ptak
ARTINFO asked some industry insiders — photography curators and dealers from around New York — to share their thoughts about the Brooklyn Museum's "crowd-curated" show Click!” Below is the interview with Laurel Ptak, a photoblogger and freelance curator. To see the other interviews, click on the links to the left.

Laurel, what did you think of the show?

It’s exciting to see an exhibition that takes the ideas of the Internet and tries to impose them on a more traditional art-going experience. Things like participation, collaboration, transparency, and democracy all come out of a logic of the Internet, the idea of a network where there are multiple people participating in something that has a decentralized, non-hierarchical structure.

How do you feel about the idea of “crowd-curating”?

I think it’s a great social experiment. It takes the concept of the museum, which is built on nearly opposite ideals — because the process of curating is about judgment and exclusion, and for the most part allows only a certain group of people to have their work seen — and tries to approach it from a different place. It engages a wider public than would probably go to a traditional photo show at the Brooklyn Museum.

Do you see this exhibition as a gimmick to draw people to the museum, or is there a method here that can be used again?

I actually just curated a show that worked on similar principles at a small community art center in South Orange, New Jersey. It was called, “Is it Possible to Make a Photograph of New Jersey Regardless of Where You Are in the World?” and was also based on an open call for work, with submissions only accepted online.

Another thing the two exhibitions have in common is that they are both about place, which is interesting, because the Internet is so much about placelessness and a wide global community. In both shows, you’re trying to take this global audience and focus it on something very local and specific. One great detail is that there is a guy in the Brooklyn show who was also in my show. I love the idea of someone making a career out of these kooky Internet things.

The concept for the show is obviously very medium-specific; photography tends to be viewed in popular culture as an art form that everyone can do. Do you think an exhibition like this, where a major art museum is showing amateur work chosen by random people, helps or hurts the medium?


Photography exists in so many different forms and genres: vernacular (what you’re calling amateur), conceptual artworks, product photographs, and photojournalism. It has all these amazing niches that until the invention of the Internet never sat in the same place together. Probably the most primary thing, which exists in most places, is this vernacular photograph that allows you to have a point of entry into the medium. Before the Internet, there was no way to make them accessible to a mass of people. Everyone took these kinds of pictures, but they were sitting in albums or under our beds.