Contemporary art curating news and views from Michelle Kasprzak and team

Review: Journal of Visual Art Practice: Anti-Humanist Curating

Posted by Sophie Williamson • Tuesday, July 12. 2011 • Category: Reviews & Resources

Guest editor, Mathew Poole
Contributions by Amanda Beech, Roger M. Buergel, Bridget Crone, Andrew Hunt, Jaspar Joseph Lester, Matthew Poole, Paul O'Neill and Mick Wilson

Open to submission from those involved in education at postgraduate and doctorate level within visual arts, The Journal of Visual Art Practice provides a platform for issues to be discussed in a public sphere and has established a reputation for supporting and disseminating in-depth scholarly, developmental, applied and pedagogical research within the visual arts.

Although the journal encompasses both the theoretical and the practical and encourages debates that are relevant across visual art disciplines, Volume 9 No. 2 is the first to focus specifically on curating. This special issue has been guest edited by Matthew Poole, Programme Director of The Centre for Curatorial Studies at The University of Essex. He presents an introduction to his research project on the topic of anti-Humanist curating and has invited seven distinguished contributors to discuss their own take on the subject.

Underlying Poole’s project is an exploration of the limitations and problems of Liberal Humanist ideology and politics in relation to curatorial practices. He highlights that curatorial practices and discourses are largely dominated by Liberal Humanist ethics: institutions emphasise the ‘social value’ of contemporary art, and so therefore the curator is put in the position of having to realise these ‘socially beneficial’ goals. In the opening essay, Matthew Poole introduces these ideas and suggests that they may be explored and expanded to consider how curatorial practice can continue to have a political role, whilst avoiding becoming a pawn in a Neo-Liberal Post-Fordist Capitalist political agenda.

Contributions by Hans Ulrich Obrist, Maria Lind and Jens Hoffman, originally slated to be part of this issue, didn’t materialise for the final publication, however the journal still has an impressive breadth of focused arguments and debates. The collection of essays build up a strong body of research and thought that reflects the conversations each of the contributing curators have had with Poole and binds all their specialist areas of interest together.

The first three essays - by Buergel, Crone and Beech - each approach the issue of the image and how it is implicated through curatorial practice from different standpoints, and collectively build a persuasive case as to how curatorial practice regularly undermines art work as well as suggesting ways in which this can be avoided.
In the first contribution, Roger M. Buergel discuses ambiguous affiliations between the known and the unknowable in the work of Alejandra Reira and its display, and, in its ability to evoke the subjectivity of history, suggests her work as a case study for anti-humanist exhibition-making.

Bridget Crone further develops this investigation into ambiguity and the image, in her essay ‘The Image; Disaffect in the theatre of representation’. She explores the possibility of the image without a dependency upon a relationship with a human subject or viewer, using the examples of The Otolith Group, Hito Steyerl, Rabih Mroué, Gail Pickering and Tom Nicholson, and subsequently offers a model of curating where structure and methodology are the focus rather than the binding of affective processes usually used to experience the image.

The third essay, written by Amanda Beech, brings together the previous two contributions by exploring curatorial style specifically, proposing further questions about scepticism and doubt that regularly underlies critical curatorial practices today and the subsequent political implications.

Andrew Hunt compares his own experience of curating in locations on the periphery to Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guartttari’s book Kafka: Toward a Minor Literature in order to suggest how ‘minor curating’ could counteract the hegemonic curatorial practice. He argues that an ethical approach to exhibition making that involves affirmative modes of critical humour and humility will encourage critical effectiveness in curatorial practice, as well as help avoid curatorial narcissism and tensions between utopian, social and political thoughts on display.

Jasper Joseph-Lester, taking a looser, but nevertheless poignant, approach to the subject matter, discusses the ‘curation’ of public space, in his essay ‘Non-relational regimes of urban modernisation’. Through an exploration of urban planning proposals for Coventry in the 1940s and again in 2008, he argues that gaining the support of ‘the public’ is imperative for urban development, yet a real socially-engaged dialogue is false; instead urban planning simply embodies a political construct. The inclusion of this essay jolts us into considering the entire curatorial debate in the context of wider political hegemony.

The final essay in the publication, ‘Curatorial counter-rhetorics and the educational turn’ by Mick Wilson and Paul O’Neill, gives an overview of the changing relationships that curators have had towards educational discourse, provoked by ‘moral panics’ throughout Europe and the US since the 1960. Wilson and O'Neill insightfully explore how this ‘educational turn’ has impacted on the programming and rhetoric used by both art and educational institutions, reinforced by a culture of reputational economy, and attempts to counter-act this with experimental educational structures.

Whilst the journal is not widely available, this issue is definitely worth trying to get your hands on. Poole has instigated a thorough discussion of what is an increasingly relevant topic in current curatorial practice throughout Europe and North America as more and more publicly funded institutions have to fight to prove their public benefit. Poole’s essay and dialogue with the contributors is only an introduction to a much larger research project which we will no doubt expect more from in future.

The journal can be bought from:,id=131/view,page=1/

Preceeding the Journal of Visual Art Practice’s invitation to Matthew Poole as guest editor, two related seminars were held where the issues were thrashed out. They are definitely worth a listen:

Seminar #1:
Held at Goldsmiths College in July 2010, before the publication, Poole introduces his research and writer and critic, Robert Garnett presents his paper, ‘Humour, Deleuze, and the possibility of a Curation of Humour’, followed by a discussion with the audience.

Seminar #2:
The second seminar was held at Whitechapel Gallery, in conjunction with the launch of the publication with Roger M. Buergel, Bridget Crone, Anselm Franke, and Matthew Poole in discussion:

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