Raising Frankenstein: Curatorial Education and Its Discontents: Reviewed by Antonia Blocker

The issue of self-reflexivity is one that looms large in relation to curatorial education and the curatorial practices that emerge from it. How does one challenge curatorial practice without making one’s practice about curating? Can a history of curating be formulated in order to form the basis of teaching? Crucially, can curating be taught and how should it be taught? And perhaps most importantly, are these questions significant to anybody, beyond those who are part of (having studied or taught on) curatorial courses? Published on the heels of the 2008 conference Trade Secrets: Education/Collection/History, held at the Banff Centre, Raising Frankenstein: Curatorial Education and its Discontents wisely side steps this final question. Kitty Scott pitches the book as a ‘handbook for curating students’ in her introduction; although she then goes on to suggest that Raising Frankenstein offers a ‘set of cogent questions and analyses for […] students to practitioners’. By this one might assume she means curators, but perhaps she is referring to practitioners of curatorial education, which in this instance would be more apropos. Yet ultimately, Raising Frankenstein seems to fall between the cracks of its intended audience, failing to provide the pragmatics of a handbook, while not venturing far enough from the subject of curatorial education to serve useful to those unrelated to its pedagogy.

The six short essays range from ‘The Top Ten’ by Barbara Fischer, which provides an outline of a syllabus of sorts – a brief exhibition history that would be standard to any curatorial course – to a relatively informal and unfocused panel discussion. On the whole, the tone of the essays is reflective and vaguely idealistic. Teresa Gleadowe argues, ‘[curatorial courses] have to aspire to remain flexible in content and not […] settle into a fixed notion of their professional competences’, setting an example for far-reaching statements with no practical recourse. Considering that Gleadowe was paramount to establishing the Royal College of Art’s precedential yet highly institutionalised programme, she is in a prime position to make such an assertion. Undoubtedly it is true, yet how should such flexibility be achieved? The more successful of the essays is arguably Francesco Manacorda’s ‘Who’s Afraid of the Ideal Public?’, precisely because it focuses more succinctly on specific grievances with curatorial education and isolates some surmountable problems, such as ensuring curatorial students consider their public and instilling the importance of continued conversations with artists, colleagues and others. Nevertheless, these points are embedded in a somewhat convoluted first person narrative.

Perhaps a more useful publication would be one that more directly and honestly serves as a handbook, that is, one that poses pragmatic suggestions, similar to Manacorda’s, for establishing a professional practice. Although Raising Frankenstein implies that curatorial education is inherently problematic and needs to change and evolve constantly, ultimately it does not address the insinuated subtext – the institutional art world can no longer accommodate for the increased number of institutionally educated curators. Year after year, these courses launch a plethora of critically engaged, but often under-experienced curators into an oversaturated professional market. Realistically, what curatorial students need is not more theoretical discourse around the subject of their education. Rather what they are lacking is a roadmap to working in the current climate, in the hiatus between what curatorial education was twenty years ago and what it will be once it has adjusted, which may ultimately be totally unrecognisable. Of course, in order for this necessary transformation to take place, there needs to be continuing conversations and discussions between those who teach and those who learn. However, when these are, at this point, so far from reaching a solution, I am unsure whether the best place for them is a dedicated publication.

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