Contemporary art curating news and views from Michelle Kasprzak and team

Pick 'N Mix #42

Posted by Michelle Kasprzak • Monday, January 3. 2011 • Category: Pick 'N Mix

- Paul Lang is the newly-appointed curator at the National Gallery of Canada. At the job interview, he was asked by National Gallery Director Marc Mayer: "Were I to hire you for this job, who do you work for?" Lang replied: "I work for the public and so do you."

- " [curating] seemed to suit my personality better than being an academic, because you're always starting new projects. A curator is different in the sense that one of your main responsibilities is communication -- how you translate what you see in the artwork, what you feel is important about it, to an audience." - Shamim Momin

- "One of the most powerful functions that I have as a curator at a major art organization such as Creative Time is the power to legitimate phenomena. [...] The sad fact is that while critics still worry about whether things are art or not, the big game of cultural production has left the art arena and is now at the disposal of the capitalist machine of cultural production. If art is to challenge the present condition, it must make the scope of its questions and audience much broader and more exacting. For those that take this task seriously, I want to legitimate their efforts." - Nato Thompson

- Witte de With recently held Act X of the Rotterdam Dialogues: Morality. The Witte de With has posted audio files of the talks, including talks by curators Tirdad Zolghadr, Adriano Pedrosa, Clémentine Deliss, Dessislava Dimova, Candice Hopkins, and others.

- Two new book reviews up, and more to come! Check out my reviews of A Brief History of Curating by Hans Ulrich Obrist and New Media in the White Cube and Beyond, edited by Christiane Paul.

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Review: A Brief History of Curating by Hans Ulrich Obrist

Posted by Michelle Kasprzak • Monday, December 27. 2010 • Category: Reviews & Resources

Hans Ulrich Obrist, renowned art world figure who hangs out at the top of the ArtReview Power 100 (which is indicative of something, no matter what one thinks of that list) released a book of interviews with eleven pioneer curators entitled A Brief History of Curating. Despite his status as super-curator, whilst reading this book the larger-than-life personality named on the front cover will fade into the background, as Obrist wields a light touch throughout.

The interview format is a tricky one to master. I attempted to include interviews as a key feature of (see my interviews with Karen Gaskill and Alissa Firth-Eagland), but I put the series on permanent hiatus precisely because the format is demanding on both the interviewer and the interviewee. Interviewers are susceptible to overt attempts to appear clever with unnecessarily ornate questions (one envisions a desperate goose trying to lay a golden egg) and interviewees can veer on the side of over-cautiousness in their responses.

Obrist takes the interview format and works it well. He name drops, but rarely does the reader get the sense that he's doing it gratuitously. Obrist sometimes refers to other interviews that he's included in this book when posing questions, which cleverly develops links between the otherwise discrete stories for the reader. His questions are mostly brief and keep the focus off of him and where it belongs, which is on his subjects. He takes a difficult form that looks easy, and makes it look really easy.

Readers will be appreciative that he is so expert at orchestrating these conversations, because the subjects are truly fascinating. The curators interviewed in the book mostly began their careers in the 60s and 70s, and some of them are now deceased. The book intentionally focuses on this time period, which is not far behind us at all, but feels like a different planet compared to the contemporary art world today: Pontus Hulten describes bringing a "Mondrian to the gallery in a taxicab"; Jean Leering recounts jumping from studying architecture and doing military service to becoming Director of the Van Abbemuseum. While some of those stories are extraordinary and highlight difference, other interviews show that little is changed as well, for good and for ill: Walter Zanini describes how it is "normal" for museum officials to work collaboratively with artists, something that happens routinely today; and Lucy Lippard described protests at MoMA over "neglect of women artists" (among other things), a situation which definitely persists. One cannot help but read the situations described by the curators in the book and speculate on how these same situations might be handled today, and this is fine: it helps us understand what the past was like, get to grips with what our situation is like now, and imagine what ideal amalgam of past and present attitudes we might hope to forge for the future.

This book is definitely for those embedded in the art world. There are too many key exhibitions and historical moments and figures mentioned by both Obrist and his interviewees to make the book accessible to a wider public. That said, in a time of "for Dummies" manuals on one end and highly academic texts on the other, it's wonderful to have a book that is simply an informative and easygoing read, with the interviews so smoothly woven together, and yet still for a specialised audience.

More info and to buy: A Brief History of Curating by Hans Ulrich Obrist

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Review: New Media in the White Cube and Beyond, edited by Christiane Paul

Posted by Michelle Kasprzak • Saturday, December 25. 2010 • Category: Reviews & Resources

New Media in the White Cube and Beyond: Curatorial Models for Digital Art is a collection of essays edited by Christiane Paul (curator at the Whitney Museum of American Art), addressing several topics of concern to new media art curators. The twelve essays cover the full range of territory that curators will encounter, from understanding how artists use the medium to considering how to preserve works far into the future.

Paul's introduction to the book is a solid briefing for curators interested in new media art but who haven't ventured far into this area yet, and it also usefully summarises the many issues in the field for veteran new media curators. Though each essay is generous with concrete examples, a case studies section is also included. The case studies provide intense and practical examinations of detail which also serve to bolster the points made in the essays.

The book focuses on addressing the proverbial elephant in the room when it comes to new media and museums, which could be glibly summed up as "why don't museums get it?". As the introduction explains and several essays reiterate, museums are in the business of presentation, interpretation, and conservation, and the very nature of new media art makes those three actions difficult. In Jon Ippolito's essay "Death by Wall Label", he says "Like a shark, a new media artwork must keep moving to survive". Museums in their current configuration are clearly a little more at ease with a stationary shark (in the natural history wing, stuffed; or in the contemporary art wing, preserved nicely in formaldehyde, perhaps?) rather than the restless shark-like character of new media. There is no "set it and forget it" if you are in the business of presenting this kind of work.

So what can be done? Several of the contributors offer concrete ways of addressing the gap. Sarah Cook proposes some metaphors for curatorial thinking around these exhibitions: exhibition as software programme/data flow; exhibition as trade show; and exhibition as broadcast. Metaphor and analogy is a tool used throughout, by multiple contributors: Sara Diamond also uses the metaphor of flows in her essay; Caitlin Jones and Carol Stringari use the analogy of removing old, darkened varnish from a nineteenth-century painting when considering the challenges in conserving media works. The heavy use of metaphor and analogy, and making direct links to traditional conservation as Jones and Stringari do with their painting example, will surely make the issues seem less alien to those who are relative newcomers to the presentation and conservation of new media.

Overall this book is an excellent reference and insight into new media from leading thinkers such as Sarah Cook, Jon Ippolito, Charlie Gere, Sara Diamond, and Christiane Paul herself.

More info and to order: New Media in the White Cube and Beyond: Curatorial Models for Digital Art

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Pick 'N Mix #40

Posted by Michelle Kasprzak • Tuesday, October 26. 2010 • Category: Pick 'N Mix
Welcome to the latest edition of Pick 'N Mix.

- It's not easy to put together a show," says Manish Pushkale. "Being an artist I understand the limitations of other artists and the discussions could extend to techniques as well. An artist-curator has that advantage, even though they might not have studied curating."

- Holland Cotter: "The subject of what is gained and lost in art in the age of mechanical reproduction is ancient by now. But the question of what art’s future might be on the accessible, untamable Internet is still a bit new. And cyberspace remains, so far, a curator-challenging frontier."

- Alex Kleiman: "In order to be a good curator, generally, you have to be quite flexible and responsive, and in order to curate interestingly and engagingly you have to be multifariously aware, impressionable and analytical."

- Who Cares? 16 Essays on Curating in Asia, commissioned by Para/Site Art Space, is an anthology that compiles 16 essays on curating art in and of Asia. One of the themes addresses the politics of care, commonly understood as the basic role of curators, with regards to art and artists, across time and contexts. Another theme revolves around markers of success in the realm of contemporary curating. A third recurring theme deals with curating in the globalised art world of advanced travel and communication technologies. A fourth theme reconsiders the audience as active producers in a curated experience. Through a variety of perspectives and literary styles, these texts constitute primary notes towards 'curatorial criticism,' a subfield of art criticism that identifies the new in curating today.

- Issue 6 of On Curating is available for download, focusing on exhibition making. The issue features interviews with Nikolaus Schaffhausen, Zoe Gray, and Paul O’Neill, an essay by Hito Steyerl, and much more.
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Pick 'N Mix #35

Posted by Michelle Kasprzak • Thursday, February 25. 2010 • Category: Pick 'N Mix
Welcome to another edition of Pick 'N Mix, my collections of links and news relevant to curators.

- There are two events coming up in March that I'd like to highlight. Friends and compatriots CRUMB are launching three books on Friday March 5 in Gateshead, UK. CRUMB's co-founders, Sarah Cook and Beryl Graham, are launching their new book Rethinking Curating: Art After New Media, published by MIT Press, and two new volumes of CRUMB dialogues published by The Green Box, Berlin. Find out more on their Facebook event page. A few time zones over in Philadelphia, USA, on Saturday March 13, a symposium entitled "Curating and Risk" will be held at Moore College. The event is the fifth in a series of public conversations about issues and ideas in contemporary curatorial practice. Admission is free but RSVPs are requested, find out more on Moore's website.

- Two new must-reads: The Exhibitionist is a new journal on exhibition making that looks like essential reading, especially as it is made by curators for curators. Also Independent Curators International has just launched Dispatch, which will host a range of curators around the world on a monthly basis. This month, the host is Sofía Olascoaga, an educational curator based in Mexico City.

- Whitney Biennial curator Francesco Bonami was recently profiled in New York Magazine. A quick read, and interesting merely to see the slightly lazy "curator as failed artist" trope trotted out. The quote from Bonami I liked best was: "It’s a myth that curators change the career of an artist. The work of an artist changes the career of an artist."
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Pick 'N Mix - October 2009

Posted by Michelle Kasprzak • Monday, October 5. 2009 • Category: Pick 'N Mix
Welcome to this month's Pick 'N Mix, a selection of interesting tidbits about curators that I spotted on the web over the past few weeks.

- A great interview with Mary Jane Jacob is available over at the always interesting Bad at Sports podcast/blog. Jacob is currently Professor and Executive Director of Exhibitions at the Art Institute of Chicago, and former Chief Curator at the MCA Chicago and LA MoCA.

- Some ruminations over at the New York Times on the use and abuse of the term curator. They don't seem too worried about this trend. I guess I'm really old fashioned (or think there has to be a better word for what they describe).

- This article, that describes how famous curator Klaus Biesenbach decorates his home, starts with an excellent anecdote about how he "transformed" a hotel room he stayed in a few years back. The article is a fascinating glimpse into Mr Biesenbach's life, an easy read, and it's in a fashion magazine (so you can mull over the context whilst you read)!

- I'm nearly finished my book review of A Brief History of Curating, by Hans Ulrich Obrist. The book features eleven interviews with key curators in the field and it is a really fun read so far, I have to say. A review soon, I promise!

- has a Facebook page, and of course many of you read this site by subscribing on e-mail or via RSS feeds. I thought I'd throw one more thing into the mix: a Twitter feed! The Twitter feed works just like RSS or the e-mail subscription: whenever I post something new here, you are notified. That's all! I'm not sure if it will be popular or if it is even necessary, but it's not much effort on my part to try it out. If you are interested in a Twitter feed with a bit more going on, feel free to follow my own Twitter profile.

- Speaking of book reviews, and of Twitter feeds, I notice that N. Elizabeth Schlatter has a great page devoted to books for curators, and she also has an interesting Twitter feed.

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Pick 'N Mix - September 2009

Posted by Michelle Kasprzak • Wednesday, September 2. 2009 • Category: Pick 'N Mix
Welcome to this month's Pick 'N Mix, a selection of interesting tidbits about curators that I spotted on the web over the past few weeks.

- Serpentine Gallery Co-Director Hans Ulrich Obrist has launched a project, "A Protest Against Forgetting," which encompasses a badge (emblazoned with "Walter Hopps will be here in 20 minutes") a book, talks, and more. The book, A Brief History of Curating, features eleven interviews with key curators in the field. I hope to post a review of it soon.

- In this interview with Aaron Rose, curator of the Alleged Gallery in NYC, he discusses how the 'outsider art' and 'street art' he was working with rose to prominence. He speaks a bit about the balance between what was (and still sometimes is) art produced by rebellious characters, and the corporate brands that want to attach themselves to this type of practice.

- A fabulous, frank interview with famous art collector Charles Saatchi reveals his thoughts on curators, which ranges from from skin-crawling stereotype ("The familiar grind of 1970s conceptualist retreads, the dry-as-dust photo and text panels, the production line of banal and impenetrable installations, the hushed and darkened rooms with their interchangeable flickering videos are the hallmarks of a decade of numbing right-on curatordom") to humble acknowledgement ("when you see something special, something inspired, you realise the debt we owe great curators and their unforgettable shows – literally unforgettable, because you remember every picture, every wall and every juxtaposition"). A highly entertaining read, no matter where you sit in the art ecosystem.

- And in a final quirky item (once again revealing my obsession with hotels), it was reported that a German hotel was taking payment from artists in artwork rather than cash. Will they eventually also take payment from curators by arranging shows in their rooms rather than cash? I wondered. It turns out to be a specific project directed by Kunst-Werke in Berlin. In the meantime, I will keep imagining about how art could become the currency of the future, and whether that is scary or not.

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Posted by Michelle Kasprzak • Sunday, September 16. 2007 • Category: Questions & Conversations
The first edition of Conversations is with Vancouver-based curator, Alissa Firth-Eagland.

Alissa is currently the Director/Curator of Media Art at Western Front. The interview with Alissa covered topics ranging from web 2.0, to relationship-building with artists, to advice for young curators. This interview, the first in the series of e-books that will be released here, is intended to become part of a larger conversation. Comments on the topics raised in this series of e-books are welcomed, and responses may be collected later into a companion e-book.

To create the e-book, I used the DIFFUSION e-book generator, which was developed by artist-led studio and think tank Proboscis. To enjoy your copy of this e-book, simply choose a download link below (depending on what part of the world you are in, you will require either the Letter or A4 formatted version). Once you have downloaded the PDF file, print the e-book, and assemble according to the directions on the last page of the e-book. Then read it, share it, and print another for yourself or a friend!

Download the DIFFUSION e-book: Conversations: Alissa Firth-Eagland - A4 Format Conversations: Alissa Firth-Eagland - Letter Format

(Can't open PDF files? Download a free PDF reader.)

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