Heather Gibson Moqtaderi, gallery assistant director and associate curator of the Arthur Ross Gallery says that the idea to crowdsource the artwork of exhibition arose from the desire “to tell a story of what the audience wants to see.” The Citizen Salon exhibition at the Arthur Ross Gallery (housed within the Fisher Fine Arts Library) will open on December 1st, featuring works of art chosen by members of the university and local community during a voting period that ran from May to September. During these months, any person was able to vote for the inclusion of a piece of art from a pool of 125 pre-selected works of modern and contemporary art that had been narrowed down from the over 7,000 pieces of art that make up the Penn Art Collection.
The role of the citizen curator is an idea that originates from scientific communities and has been useful for gathering data. Within the context of art galleries, Moqtaderi notes that “Curators are usually charged with representing what’s interesting to the public as an authoritative voice.” But Citizen Salon does just the opposite, subverting the role of the curator as an authoritative voice and instead, giving an audience member the agency to choose the work they find most relevant to be exhibited. The exhibition’s audience itself is not singular; it is multifaceted in its composition of multiple voices, departments, and disciplines, resulting in wide variety in the artistic selections that can be found in Citizen Salon.
One of the main objectives with setting up the exhibition’s voting system was to provide works of art diverse in genre, medium, and aesthetic in order to gain insight into what attracted the eyed, along with making visiting an art gallery more accessible. It was decided early on that it was important for the works of art to share an equal playing field of digital representation throughout the voting stage, which meant that only paintings and prints would be exhibited. For Moqtaderi, one of the most surprising things about the curation of Citizen Salon has been the amount of personal stories and connections to art that she’s been able to read. The voting system’s optional section for voters to expand on why they chose the artwork they did was filled out by a third of respondents, far more than she had anticipated. She comments that from looking at the information gathered by this section, “Respondents are looking to see equal representation in art, especially that of female and underrepresented artists, and view this exhibition as a platform to voice their hope of improving the visibility of women and minorities in art.”
Besides the fact that the art for Citizen Salon was chosen by its audience, what ties all the works of art from the exhibition together, will be left largely in part to the audience member. The Arthur Ross Gallery will be providing a notebook for each audience member so that they may come to their own conclusions about the presentation of diverging works art and illuminate common critical questions that they bring to art galleries.
Reflecting on the experience of organizing Citizen Salon, Moqtaderi says, “Hearing stories of audience gave me insight into what I do everyday. So much about this exhibition has been about the audience and my takeaways from understanding what they want to see. I think of this as a pilot project, one that can potentially be used as a model for a bigger project in the future.”