Views on contemporary art curating

Curated by "Anonymous"

Posted by Michelle Kasprzak • Friday, October 27. 2006 • Category: Musings
Tom Moody brings two examples of the phenomenon of anonymity to our attention in a recent blog post.

Tom first discusses a recent example of the Schirn Kunsthalle's "Anonymous" show, wherein the artists and the curator are anonymous. This example is not as interesting for me as it could be, since at the end of the show the identities of the artists and the curator will be revealed. Rather anti-climactic, since after the show, will it have the same impact? I suppose it depends on the work, as always.

Tom cites an earlier example of the same concept:
Harlem's Triple Candie gallery also did an "anonymous" series in 2004 and 2005, consisting of two shows by artists whose identities won't be revealed (ever, according to co-gallerist Peter Nesbett.) The curatorial intent was essentially the same--"reaction to pernicious branding of artists in the contemporary art world"--although Triple Candie framed it more thoughtfully as an issue of "how biography informs interpretation." The shows weren't obscure: one was reviewed by Ken Johnson in the New York Times and the gallerists mentioned them in an interview they gave in Flash Art interview in this summer.

Escaping how "biography informs interpretation" is one thing, but it then leaves one wondering about the flipside of this problem - where is the accountability? Nothing creates accountability like putting your name to something.

The problem is actually bigger and harder to unpick than that simple set of diametric opposites I just proposed. For example, it is sometimes the case that curators at large institutions are simply part of staff and their name isn't necessarily attached to each piece of collateral that is released pertaining to a particular exhibition. In that case, it might be a bit harder to find the information, but usually with a bit of digging one can make an educated guess which person on staff it was.

Curatorial collectives pose a similar ambiguity - the information is there, but it remains slightly obscured who did what, who exactly chose a particular artist, etc. I've participated in a number of co-curatorial situations where the internal methods we used were not explained to prospective artists in the shows, and perhaps that lack of transparency chafed. I'm not sure.

I think that the bottom line for me is that as I study these examples, I'm finding that I like a transparent approach more and more. There is something very appealing about being able to put a face, name, and background to decisions. Biography does inform interpretation, perhaps, but isn't context such as biography an essential part of the puzzle? Or, as Sally McKay noted in the comments on Tom's post, it is important "to follow the development of one indvidual's practice as an evolving project". I think that a long-term narrative in one's practice is something to strive for, and that potential narrative is undercut by anonymity and obfuscation of roles.