The life of an independent architecture curator is always tenuous at best. They develop a concept for an exhibit then pitch it to multiple venues in academia and museums and spend three to four years realizing the project. The financial rewards for such projects are minimal, but usually cover the curator’s costs and allow them a modicum of profit.
If the curator is good at doing all it takes to realize their projects—corralling architects to finish installations, creating catalogues, communicating with the media, etc.—they will often be asked to organize and curate a biennale or triennale. Such publically financed exhibitions are extravaganzas of architecture (or they attempt to be) and all of them try to compete with the influence of the Venice Biennale—the first and still the most important of the international architecture surveys.
These celebrations are a big prize for the mostly young and aspiring curators who walk the globe, and a rare chance to actually get paid for their work. But the most recent Lisbon Architecture Triennale—Close, Closer—which was curated by Beatrice Galilee, José Esparza, Mariana Pestana, and Liam Young—was a successful attempt to introduce an entire new generation of architects to an international audience. Despite its success, the organization that put the exhibit together has told its curators and designers (some of whom invested their own money in the project) that they will not be receiving their contracted fees. The final dispute ended this month, after a year and half of negotiations.
It is true that the Portuguese economy is suffering from the fallout of the Euro collapse, but to decide to cut the fee for a contract two years after the event is unethical and poor behavior, even in the world of architectural exhibitions.