This page contains a Flash digital edition of a book.
mediation and intermediaries’. Rather we ‘must
zoom in on intermediary subjectivity and try to CURATING
analyse it’. What follows, though, is not an analysis
but an elaborate theoretical self-justification:
speculating about what might happen if curators, SUBJECTS
their ‘middlemen’, were eliminated, is perhaps a bit
too shocking a discussion to be had.
There’s some talk about power, but it’s
Edited by Paul O’Neill power in the Foucauldian sense, and less the
Open Editions, £15/€23 (paperback) problematics of curators’ own real power. This is
never seen as a question, because most curators
see themselves as critiquing the market or the
‘bourgeois museum’, and rarely engage with ‘Do we really need another book about curating?’
the cultural-economic realities of their own asks Annie Fletcher in her interview with Curating
subsistence. Indeed, the real political tension of Subjects’s editor, Paul O’Neill. ‘Absolutely,’ O’Neill
the interface between the political society, the enthuses, and while just any other book by curators
museum institution, the cultural programmer about curating might be a self-congratulatory
and the artist seems weirdly mysterious for many, exercise, O’Neill’s valuable, sometimes insightful,
ensconced as they often are within institutions that sometimes frustrating anthology manages to surf
grant them a high degree of independence. Hans the zeitgeist of curator-speak while hinting that, if
Ulrich Obrist’s otherwise informative interview this isn’t the book on contemporary curating, then
with the late Jean Leering has Obrist not quite it will allow us to make some sense of what has
grasping what Leering is telling him about the happened during the last 15 years.
experience of experimental curating from the As O’Neill points out, during that
1960s into the 70s. ‘I think that many people were period the artworld has accumulated a host of
afraid [of experimental, politicised curating]’, metaphors that define the curator as something
says Leering, ‘especially those in government.’ more than the organiser of art exhibitions; the
But Obrist passes over Leering’s account of the curator is now ‘medium, midwife, DJ, platform
politics of the period, even though puzzled as to provider, self-promoter and scout’ as much as
why curating quickly retreated in the mid-1970s.‘collaborator, cultural mediator, facilitator… and
But there is much good stuff here. Irene cultural agitator’. In all these, curating has assumed
Calderoni’s excellent essay on the interaction an active and sometimes overarching presence,
between museum curators and the post-minimalist so the paradoxical underlying concern of Curating
innovations of the artists of the late 1960s and Subjects is how a class of practitioners who want
early 70s shows how curators actively shifted to a to understand themselves as democratic has
position of partisan support for challenging new recently assumed such a dominant position in the
art, running the gauntlet of modernism’s sclerotic circuits of the artworld.
institutionalisation and risking themselves in the There’s much talk about ‘discourse’ and
confrontation with their patrons. Dave Beech ‘subject positions’, and Michel Foucault’s and Gilles
and Mark Hutchinson, in their characteristically Deleuze’s ghosts haunt many of the contributions.
mercurial dialectical style, get to the root of the For as Jens Hoffman ruminates, if art operates
matter by questioning the political absences and under the flag of post-structuralism’s ‘death of the
repressions that produce the distinction between author’, the curator is ‘decentred, only a part of a
artist and curator in the first place. Sarah Pierce’s larger structure, a subject position, and not a core’.
account of the Orchard Gallery’s recent rethinking But this doesn’t stop Hoffman, a quintessentially
of how to wrest cultural independence through the ‘authorial’ curator, from complaining about the
commercial model reopens the debate between difficulty that creative curators face in dealing with
the relative virtues of private and public. O’Neill’s institutions that won’t let them do as they please.
astute injunction to contemporary practitioners Hoffman’s pique is symptomatic.
to site their practice in terms of the past and the Throughout Curating Subjects, the orthodoxy of
possible future of curating could mark a turning post-structuralism’s querying of subjectivity means
point; we do need another book on curating, and it that curators talk about it while rarely questioning
may have to be about how artists might take over the material base of their own very real subjectivity.
the functions of curators once again – but will it be Lars Bang Larsen and Søren Andreasen,
written by curators? J.J. Charlesworthdisparaging Joseph Kosuth’s early demand that
conceptual art should work to eliminate the
mediation of the art critic, declare that it is ‘futile
to speculate about the possible elimination of
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