Contemporary art curating news and views from Michelle Kasprzak and team

Curators on politics

Posted by Michelle Kasprzak • Thursday, November 29. 2007
Politically-aware artists marrying their activist tendencies to their creative expressions is a well-established practice. Festivals such as Artivistic and magazines, journals and blogs such as Art Threat, the Journal of Aesthetics and Protest, and Visual Resistance have sprung up in recent years to support this fusion of politics and art.

Reflecting on this naturally led me to speculate on how curators insert their political visions into the exhibitions and events that they create. One could argue that curating is an inherently political act, especially vis à vis historically established exclusionary curatorial practices, and the larger uses of culture as part of a geopolitical agenda. For this investigation, however, I was solely concerned with how curators explicitly commented on the politics of our times through their exhibitions, not the inherent politics of curating itself. What follows are a few key examples that I discovered.

In 2006, Michael Dupuis curated an online exhibition for Entitled The New Political Action, the exhibition examines the evolving sophistication of "political action". In fact, though Dupuis is speaking directly about political action becoming "conservative" and "institutionalized", one could extend that statement to address the general phenomenon of radical expressions by curators and artists being softened by conservative systems. Dupuis sees much potential in younger structures, such as the World Wide Web:
So long as the contemporary powers of "political action"� cannot infiltrate the largely decentralized structure of the worldwide web, new media holds immense potential for the advancement of the public discourse and art of a political nature. In this way, one can think of the mainstream media as the primary vehicle for contemporary "political action"� (PACs, 527s, etc.) and new media as a voice for an old style of political activism. This exhibit hopes to present and comment on such new media works in the scope of political action. The following works either embody the notion of political action/activism themselves, or address political action from an outsider's perspective.

Modern Art Notes had a great series of interviews with American curators on the subject of artists' responses to the attacks on the World Trade Center. Tyler Green interviewed MoMA curator Ann Temkin, Art Institute of Chicago contemporary art curator James Rondeau, and MOCA chief curator Paul Schimmel. The interviews are excellent and well worth a read. In response to Green's question about particularly effective artworks in response to 9/11, James Rondeau offers this:
Language seems more powerful than images somehow. One of the very best, and most succinct art works pertaining to 9/11 -- I have a version of it on a T-shirt I cherish and wear -- is by the great Kay Rosen. Her work, Missing (2002), seems to consist of the word "remember" doubled and stacked vertically (like the twin towers) but the letter "b" is missing. Admonishing us to not forget, reminding us of an irrevocable, almost invisible absence, the work is so subtle, so smart, so clear, so right.

In an interview with Dr. Kim Hong-Hee on Res Artis, Hong-Hee discussed how a strategy of difference and linking contemporary art to broader global discourses can open up some of the closed, conservative structures of the art world:
...a female curator with the virtue of tolerance and moral consciousness may be able to suggest a new standard of political art to overcome the contradiction of the conventional system of art world, by applying the strategy of difference. This can be realized by means of context-oriented exhibitions which link communal, geo-political and socio-historical elements to contemporary art, escaping from the format of mainstream exhibitions featuring renowned artists, exhibitions dependent on visual effects and techniques, and alchemical exhibitions based on formalism only. It is the ground provided by biennales and alternative spaces rather than museums and galleries where political norms of art can be experimented and embodied.

And last but not least, recently at the ICA in London, a roundtable discussion entitled Political manifesto as curatorial project was presented. The discussion seemed to highlight the power of politics at the centre of curatorial drive:

From the post-WWII era to Vietnam and 'the war on terror', curators have used the political issues of the day to create relevant and provocative exhibitions. The ICA has often been at the forefront of this practice, playing host to the politically controversial Unknown Political Prisoner exhibition in 1953, offering solidarity in the early 60s to LA artists protesting against Vietnam, and most recently inviting artists' proposals for a Memorial to the Iraq War (2007). In a time which is often described as apathetic, but which has also seen some of the biggest anti-war demonstrations ever, should contemporary politics be the domain of the curator?

I believe the last question, "...should contemporary politics be the domain of the curator?" should unquestionably be answered in the affirmative. Curators are often uniquely positioned on the boundaries between conservative and radical worlds, and so their position to exact change and act as "translator" between worlds is immensely valuable. Or, as Dr. Hong-Hee put it, "a curator can raise certain issues and problems whereto an artist can react and respond thus generating a collaboration process".
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Residency: das weisse haus

Posted by Michelle Kasprzak • Wednesday, November 21. 2007 • Category: News
das weisse haus is a new exhibition space for young contemporary art that will open its doors mid-December 2007 in Vienna, Austria. Their aim is the presentation and support of young Austrian and international artists of exceptional quality. das weisse haus serves as a platform where artists can interact with different spaces, present their work, attract essential publicity, and become integrated into various networks.

Currently das weisse haus is offering a residency to an international curator. The curator shall become part of the local network, creating and nurturing contacts from the local art scene. The duration of the residency will be 2 to 3 months and culminates in an exhibition in which the curator should reflect his/her experiences, presenting works by artists they became acquainted with during the time of their stay. Furthermore, depending on the opportunities available, the the curator should organise an exhibition project back home. Applicants must be curators from abroad, with a special emphasis on North America (USA, Canada) up to 39 years of age. A jury will review all applicants in order to identify a guest curator.

Send the following documents by November 27, 2007:
- photos and description of recent work
- CV, including all personal contact information
- time guidelines, preferred dates of residency

Via post or email to:
Kunstverein das weisse haus
Westbahnstrasse 11 13/1/3
1070 Vienna, Austria
[email protected]

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Winners announced: Best Art Practices

Posted by Michelle Kasprzak • Monday, November 12. 2007
The inaugural Best Art Practices award for young curators has just announced the winners of this year's competition. The jury received 132 applications from 32 countries in 5 continents. Their press statement (re-arranged a bit, and with URLs added by myself) follows:

The purpose of the Best Art Practices Award, announced by the Italian Culture Department of the Autonomous Province of Bolzano (South Tyrol), is to reward the best contemporary art projects that have been completed in the last five years by curators under forty years of age in non-conventional spaces.

Best Art Practices award winners:
1st prize, 10.000 euros: FRONTERA, Laboratorio Curatorial 060
for the complexity of the subjects covered and for the innovative vision. Greatly appreciated were: the social importance; the ability to involve the tradition and the local population in the creation and fruition of the works presented; the innovatory character aimed at overcoming public art practices typical of the 90s; the topic and more precisely the research into the frontier question in an area of scarce media attention; the unusual ability to develop feelings of freedom, fantasy and poetry.

2nd prize, 3.000 euros: THE PAINTING MUSEUM, Florin Tudor
for the clarity of the curatorial elements as regards to the contents indicated, the historic and geographic context of these and the results obtained. Greatly appreciated were: the strong public impact and the great media attention; the political and cultural importance in a context in rapid social evolution and the innovatory method of approach to the work, which investigates the relationship between state power and artistic institution

3rd prize, 2000 euros: LIMINAL SPACES, Eyal Danon, Philipp Misselwitz, Galit Eilat, Reem Fadda
for the ability of the curators to organize a joint project, in a very troubled area, such as that of Palestine and Israel. Greatly appreciated in particular was the desire of the project to create a discussion platform in which writers, artists and curators from Palestine, Israel and other parts of the world were involved, as well as the ability of the curators to find support for the other stages of the project in Europe.

The jury has also chosen to give a special mention to five projects of similar merit:
  • 6th Festival de performance de Cali-Colombia, Wilson Diaz Polanco, Ana Maria Millan Strohbach, Jaime Andreas Sandoval Alba, Claudia Patricia Sartia Macias, Juan David Medina Jaramillo

  • En Route: via another route, Adam Carr

  • Radio Gallery, Anna Colin

  • Sandwiched, Jacob Fabricius

  • Lagos Open, Emeka Udemba

Jury's statement:
The work of selecting the projects was a collective team effort by the jury who identified in this award a first platform for reflection. The jury thus decided to accompany the motivations for the winning projects with a first few general considerations on the state of young curatorial practices, which might be a good omen for the organization of future debates on this topic.

In many candidatures the lack of a solid cultural background was problematic. This denotes a tendency of the projects to approach the requests of the cultural industry. On the other hand the jury valued as positive the experimental approach of many projects and in particular the active position of many curators, who, through different forms of public involvement, share the interest for activities which enter in the respective social and political contexts. The last observation regards the growth of awareness regarding the practice of the curator orientated at overcoming the traditional separation between the artist as cultural producer and the curator as a simple complementary element to the role of the artist.

President: Carlos Basualdo
Members of the Jury: Montse Romani Monserrat, Andrea Viliani, Anton Vidokle, Letizia Ragaglia, Marion Piffer
Jury Assistant: Denis Isaia, curator of the project Best Art Practices
Secretary of the Commission: Cristina Alietti, executive officer of the culture department, Provincia Autonoma di Bolzano
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Opportunity: Liverpool Biennial

Posted by Michelle Kasprzak • Friday, November 2. 2007 • Category: Jobs & Opportunities
Liverpool Biennial is working with Jiyoon Lee, a curator based in Seoul and London, on an international exchange project involving artists and curators from Seoul and Liverpool. The exhibition-based project will investigate models of artists’ studio and will involve residencies in each city.

Liverpool Biennial is currently looking for expressions of interest from ambitious Liverpool-based curators who would see this as a fantastic opportunity to gain more international experience and make the project a great success.

In order to be considered for the project, please send a CV to paul -at- by 9th November 2007.
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Job: Art Curator, Colchester and Ipswich Museum Service

Posted by Michelle Kasprzak • Friday, November 2. 2007 • Category: Jobs & Opportunities
Colchester and Ipswich Museum Service is an exciting, friendly and customer focussed organisation that is a highly regarded East of England Renaissance Hub museum which is looking to recruit an Art Curator. You will have particular responsibility to develop, interpret and make accessible the nationally important collection of fine and decorative art held primarily in Ipswich and also in Colchester. You will also give occasional support and advice about art to other museums in Essex and Suffolk. Salary range: £19,592 to £24,996.

Required Skills:
The Museum Service is seeking a motivated and creative communicator with a passion for, and a background of working with, art collections, who will contribute as a member of the community history team to achieving the objectives of the museum service as a whole. All museum posts are subject to a Criminal Records Bureau Check.

Application Instructions:
For an application form and further details please call the 24 hour recruitment line on (01206) 507343, e-mail customerservicecentre -at-, or collect a form from the Customer Service Centre, High Street, Colchester quoting post reference LM45.

You can find out more about the borough on Closing date: 21 November 2007. Interviews will be held on: 13 December 2007.
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Pick 'N Mix - November 2007

Posted by Michelle Kasprzak • Thursday, November 1. 2007 • Category: Pick 'N Mix
It's the first of the month again! Hard to believe it's November already. Time for the November edition of Pick 'N Mix, my monthly annotated list of bite-sized items that have captured my attention recently.
  • "CURATE OR DIE" is the title of a series of discussions at KW Institute for Contemporary Art in Berlin.
    "The focus of classical museum work seems to have changed in the past fifteen years. The balance of exhibiting, collecting, researching, and conserving activities has shifted towards a marked concentration on exhibiting. Both the public eye and possible sponsors tend to privilege the spectacular potential inherent in exhibitions. In collaboration with the Berlin-based Bureau des Arts Plastiques, KW Institute for Contemporary Art is planning a series of panel debates addressing these and related questions. Curate or Die seems to be the only possible future perspective."
    The two remaining talks in the series are taking place November 29 and December 10 at K-W.

  • A recent article by the Washington Post asks the question: Is There a Future for Old-Fashioned Museums? It focuses primarily on the story of the "Newseum", a new museum being erected in downtown Washington, while a copy is simultaneously being "built" in the online platform of Second Life. It has not yet been decided if this virtual copy of the museum will go fully public, but if it does, it will allow a global audience to have some experience of the museum. The article explores the notions of emotional attachment and collective experience that we have when visiting physical museums, which pose a series of questions as to the similarities and differences to the way we share experiences online. As well, the article looks at the ways success is measured for museums and how this is changing.

    Maxwell L. Anderson, CEO of the Indianapolis Museum of Art says: "The root of the problem is that there is no longer an agreed-upon method of measuring achievement. Half a century ago, art museums were largely measured by a yardstick comparable to that applied to libraries of the time: the size and importance of their collections." But today, he argued, art museums increasingly "are to their detriment places that privilege entertainment over learning."

    This year, in the journal Curator, he argued, "The message has been conspicuously entrepreneurial: we can be compared with theme parks, so we matter."

    He calls for measures of success that focus on the visitor's experience of the "resonance and wonder" of artworks -- "an intangible sense of elation -- a feeling that a weight was lifted."

    Anderson's words remind us that while some of these buildings may be architectural or technological marvels, what really impacts audiences is personal and collective perceptions of the contents of museums - in other words, the fruits of labour by artists and curators.

  • An old webcast came to light via bellebyrd's blog: "Global Curating in the 21st Century" was a panel discussion held in 2003 at the Walker Art Center, as part of "How Latitudes Become Forms: Art in a Global Age".

    "Five visual arts curators discuss art in a global context. Participants are: Kathy Halbreich, Director, Walker Art Center; Vishakha Desai, Senior Vice President/Director, Galleries and Cultural Programs, The Asia Society; Hou Hanru, Paris-based, independent curator-critic; Paulo Herkenhoff, independent curator and critic (Sao Paulo); and Latitudes exhibition curator Philippe Vergne."

    You can access the stream of the panel discussion by clicking here.

  • File under slightly unusual curatorial careers: being a curator of a hotel's art collection. Jennifer Phelps is the curator at the Chambers, a luxury hotel in downtown Minneapolis, USA.

    "My first job was to catalog everything and use the floor plans to place it in the rooms," Phelps said. "That was fun, like a puzzle, because there are 60 rooms, and each got two or three pieces, depending on whether it was a suite or a single. "

    One recent addition is a bronze sculpture by British artist Gavin Turk. It sits in a hallway near the hotel's banquet rooms and looks like a pile of black plastic garbage bags stuffed to overflowing with trash. It's Phelps' job to tamp down the ire of outraged hotel guests who stumble upon it en route to a soiree.

    "They call up, furious, because they're having a party and what are we doing with garbage bags dumped in the hallway?" she said. "When I tell them it's art, they burst out laughing."

A lighthearted note to end this month's Pick 'N Mix on, I'm sure you'll agree!
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