sexta-feira, setembro 05, 2003


"The Next Documenta Should Be Curated by an Artist"

In this blog :

01. Antonio C Pinto
02. Olu Oguibe*
03. High Art*
04. AA Bronson*
05. John Baldessari*
06. Jens Hoffmann*

Date: Thursday September 04th, 2003 03:06 PM

Should the next Documenta be curated by an artist? Why not?

Though the problem may be elsewhere...
+ The the big issue is: why should an artwork cost more than a video game, or a movie ticket?
+ Or, why should "fine art" keep going running away from democracy?
+ Or, the 20th Century is over. Did anyone notice it?
+ Or, the only relevant art today should go cooperative, networked, instead of a dramatic choice between the Van Gogh hysterical paradigm and corporate culture.
+ The Next Documenta Should be Curated by a Network.
+ And The Next Documenta Should be about Re-Construction.

Date: Tuesday July 15th, 2003 12:03 PM

For those of us who come from a constituency that consistently produces excellent, practising artists who are also excellent critics and curators (Fernando Alvim, Odili Donald Odita, Kendell Geers, Sue Williamson, this writer, etc) the idea of an artist-curated major exhibition is no longer radical. The upcoming first biennial of Luanda in Angola is to be directed by the conceptual artist Fernando Alvim. Of the four other individuals on his curatorial team, three are practising artists: Oladele Bamgboye (Documenta X artist and author of a book of art theory), Kendell Geers (Documenta XI artist and editor of a critical anthology on South African art), and this writer. We've been there and done that and proved that 1. it can be done competently and 2. it is not a panacea in and of itself.

The suggestion that artists should curate major exhibitions--or rather become "the" curators of major exhibitions, and that this would solve current curatorial problems is in fact quite juvenile; it proposes a solution without identifying the problem. Before proposing any group as alternatives to curators, it is essential to identify in what ways curators have come short of the demands and expectations of their calling. I do not intend to go into that here because I have already dealt with the question in widely available essays. Making light of the curatorial task has become a prevalent disease not only among disenchanted artists and spectators, but even more devastatingly, among so-called curators, and this accounts in no small measure for why they fail. It isn't exactly easy to curate a successful, decent exhibition on any scale, let alone on a major scale. As I pointed out in the ICI publication, "Words of Wisdom: A Curator's Vade Mecum", one requisite of curating is that the curator should have what Clement Greenberg would call a "good eye". A curator must not only have a good eye for the best work that fits the theme, he or she must also have a good eye for how the work plays in space, how it all comes together both conceptually and spatially, how it all makes both thematic and visual or spatial sense, like an orchestral composition.

Obviously, not everyone has a good eye, be they curator or artist. In fact, most artists working today do not even possess the eye to tell when their own work is successful, let alone determine successful works made by others. Also, having moved on from the age when curating was a mere historicist exercise and exhibitions were mere illustrations of art history, curating has become a highly intellectual and philosophical enterprise. It is not enough to put out some work or throw things together in a gallery space (the flaw, I am told, of the current Venice Biennale). A successful curatorial venture must exhibit intelligence in order for it to be remarkable. If many exhibitions fail today, it is in part because they are not informed by the subtle but sophisticated intellect able to pull works together in a memorable orchestration that speaks to the viewer. One is afraid to say that such intellect is not exactly to be found in abundance among any group. For lack of this ability many curators are no better than display assistants at Banana Republic and Payless Shoes Store, and probably ought to seek jobs in those chainstores if they are lucky enough to get hired, but I don't know many artists who would do much better. In other to make a successful exhibition the curator must show sensitivity to the work, and by sensitivity one means a careful, humble disposition to not only study and understand the work, but to respect it, also.

Many would agree that this is one area where our major curators today seem to come short. However, how many artists do we know who are disposed to show deep sensitivity to the work of other artists, enough to truly understand it and provide the ambience for it to fully realise its power? Beyond the fundamental elements of a good exhibition: the most appropriate and hopefully most powerful work within the perimeters of the theme, orchestrated in a manner that exhibits coherence or at least visual or thematic integrity, as well as sensitivity to and deep understanding of the work, there are of course other issues that have come to the fore in our globalized moment of practice, also. One of these is awareness of the inescapably polyglottal nature of our contemporanaeity. The good curator today, especially of major shows but also of minor ones, must exhibit awareness of this inherent diversity and depart the exclusionary myopia that privileged certain constituencies in art in the past and destroyed others through condescension and negligence. If curators--especially young curators--continue to fail in this area, one must point out that artists fare no better. Take for a good example this forum, "The Next Documenta should be Curated by an Artist", which on its list of invited commentators very blatantly excludes anyone of African descent. It is curated by an artist. The year is 2003. If this curatorial exercise is premonitory of the nature of the next Documenta, you can see right away why some may have difficulty with the notion of an artist curating the exhibition. As an artist-curator one understands artist's frustrations with current curatorial practice. However, a more viable approach to a solution is to advocate improvements in curatorial strategies and practice, irrespective of who curates, rather than suggest that artists would automatically curate better than practising curators. It is important now more than ever that a critical practice emerge around curatorship, one that vigorously brings it under scrutiny and helps it evolve positively.

Curating and dedicated curators have their place, at least at this moment in history. Eventually they will become redundant, and fade like the critic faded into the dustbin of history. However, they are here now and must be contended with, and our best bet is to challenge them to deliver. There are a number of others steps that can be taken, also. Some of these I addressed in my paper before the International Symposium on Contemporary Art Theory in Mexico City in 2002 ("The Curatorial Burden ). They include changes that artists must make in order to retake the initiative in their dealings with the culture industry; in order to re-empower themselves. However, taking over Documenta or Venice as curators is not among them because it is not important. On the very contrary, artists' obsession with spaces like Documenta and Venice, and their inability to think and work outside the little box of puny, sanctified moments is a crucial part of the problem. If curators today disregard artists and instead foreground themselves, it is because they've come to lose respect for artists, because they are aware of artists' subordinate position in the hierarchy of the culture industry. Artists will not change the situation or "subvert" it by asking to curate Documenta; that's beside the point. The late British rocker Ian Dury (of Ian Dury and the Blockheads) once said of Lou Reed: "Big deal! He is as subversive as a pack of chips." That's exactly what the idea on the table is; as subversive as a pack of potato chips. As long as artists grovel before curators, never saying no to exhibition offers even when they have reservations, never exhibiting any sense of integrity or principle, never aserting themselves outside the little prison of dealer-curator-biennial-New York Times listing, never taking the initiative to re-estabish direct contact with the spectator and community without being baby-nursed, insensitive, ignorant, careerist, opportunistic, even well-meaning but simply clueless curators will continue to subsume them.

Can an artist do a good Documenta? Yes, if she or he has the curatorial experience, intellect, mettle, organisational acumen, vision, sensitivity toward art and artists, and integrity to do a good, major exhibition, but not simply because they are an artist. Olu Oguibe has curated for the Tate Modern and the latere in Venice among many other spaces. He is also an exhibiting artist with works in shows currently running at the Migros Museum, Zurich, the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, and New Museum, New York. He is a co-curator of the forthcoming 2nd Biennale of Ceramics in Contemporary Art, and the Luanda Biennale in 2005. His most recent book is The Culture Game.

Date: Saturday July 12th, 2003 08:48 AM

When I first received the e-mail from e-flux with Jens Hoffmann's name and a description of the proposal I thought to myself "oh man, another self congratulatory insider circle jerk." After all, from the outside having never met the person, I view Mr. Hoffmann's life's work as the kind of insider over-analytical under-intellectual examination and propagation of "high" art. An intellectual(ism) best left for the artists. (After all the idea of curator let alone art critic is a relatively new one in the history of art.

THE DEALERS USED TO BE THE CURATORS FOR SINGLE COLLECTORS MUSEUMS. Why do you think art was popular? Because the dealers were in charge. Then I read some of the artists statements on the site from the artists. I almost fell off my chair laughing. Democracy? Freedom in thinking? Diversity? Relevance??? Is this all some kind of sick joke? Please someone wake me up from my nightmare. Are these artworlders so blind as to see that today's global artworld is a totally elitist 95% white activity? Who do they think goes to Documenta in the first place? Them and their four friends. How can anyone of these self-congratulatory masturbators think they are having any kind of influence of any kind if they are always talking to themselves. In order to realistically assess who should curate "anything" let alone "Documenta" we should first ask the purpose of the exhibition and secondly ask who the audience is. After all obviously at this point the type of art practiced in the "first world" is a highly refined, "language" type experience. Those few people who actually go to see this exhibition (less people than who go to my local deli in any given week,) pretty much know what they are going to see. A little politics, a little aesthetics, a little socializing, and very little art (there is more art in the graffiti on my building.) I vote for AA Bronson's idea, at least then someone besides the curators parents will want to go see the show.

Date: Tuesday July 08th, 2003 06:13 AM

It is strange, when Jens approached me about this project, I assumed that he was asking me for a concept for Documenta, if I were the "curator". And that is how I proceeded. However, many (not all) of the artists approached have chosen to provide a commentary on the notion of artist as curator, most with at least hesitation, if not outright opposition. As a Canadian, this seems to me quite strange. I come from a country where a network of over 100 galleries, performance spaces and other venues are all run by (and curated by) artists. I can't think of one artist in Canada who would think of questioning this tendency. Many would be thrilled to undertake curating Documenta. Of course, the Canadian artist-run scene is not connected to the art market, and to a large extent it is not connected to the international art world. So the implications (for a Canadian) are not that one is "selling out", or misusing power. Rather, the possibility of an artist or artists curating Documenta would give the opportunity for a vast opening of doors, some fresh air, and unexpected events and collisions. However, since the 'real' purpose of Documenta is to give value to art, and to make visible the power structures of the art world (originally it demonstrated to the Communist east the wealth and 'freedom' of the west), it is unlikely that the marketplace (the galleries, collectors and their attendant sycophants) would take an interest in this notion, unless a suitably complicit artist/curator could be identified.

"Documenta, ...?"

Curators seemingly want to be artists. Architects want to be artists. I don?t know if this is an unhealthy trend or not. What disturbs me is a growing tendency for artists to be used as art materials, like paint, canvas, etc. I am uneasy about being used as an ingredient for an exhibition recipe, i.e., to illustrate a curator?s thesis. A logical extreme of this point of view would be for me to be included in an exhibition entitled ?Artists Over 6 Feet 6 Inches?, since I am 6?7?. Does this have anything to do with the work I do? It?s sandpapering the edges off of art to make it fit a recipe.

So I suppose quid pro quo ? yes! Let?s do a Documenta led by a team of artists. Here?s an idea ? let Documenta be an exhibition using curators as raw materials.

The Next Documenta Should be Curated by an Artist
An E-Flux Project curated by Jens Hoffmann

During a conversation between artist Carsten Höller and me in Stockholm in 2002, right after the opening of Documenta 11, an idea emerged that was based on a discussion around concepts of some of the previous Documenta exhibitions. Towards the end of the meeting one of Höller?s remarks was: ?I think that it would be challenging development if an artist would be invited to curate Documenta.? Based on Höller?s idea and formed by the thoughts expressed during the discussion in Sweden grew The Next Documenta Should Be Curated By an Artist.
Today it is nothing exceptional that curators occupy a more noticeable role in the process of producing an exhibition then some decades ago. While their task was historically related to the conservation of art works and the maintenance of a museum collection, curators began more and more to be creatively and conceptually involved in the making of exhibitions. Exhibitions became the creative principle of so-called exhibition makers who were described as exhibition directors and who became catalysts between the creative individual and society. Yet in recent years the focus has shifted and exhibitions in which art works are employed to illustrate the fixations of curators have been widely criticized. The creative and intellectual exchange between artists and curators has, however, been irreversibly changed and created a new condition in this relationship. It is on this backdrop that The Next Documenta Should Be Curated By an Artist is coming together.

The title of this project is less a demand than a question. A question that does not articulate a critique of previous Documenta exhibitions but rather investigates, in a provocative way, the relationship, which artists have to the profession of curating. Curators are showing more and more interest in setting up art exhibitions with greater creativity while artists are becoming more seriously involved in curating?note for example the participation of artists Gabriel Orozco and Rirkrit Tiravanija as co-curators of the 2003 Venice Biennial. For this project, following a continuous string of criticism from artists in regard to exhibition concepts that simply illustrate the curator?s ideas, a group of artists has been invited to reflect upon the conditions of the relationship between artists and curators. More importantly, the artists were asked to propose a brief concept of how they could imagine putting together an exhibition such as Documenta. An exhibition that would, from their particular point of view, represents an adequate form of exhibiting and presenting art within the model of a large-scale group exhibition. - Jens Hoffmann


The Next Documenta Should Be Curated By an Artist.
Copyrights Jens Hoffmann and Electronic Flux Corporation, 2003 / design and architecture by FDTdesign. A paper back version of this project will be published by Revolver (Archiv für aktuelle Kunst) in the Fall of 2003.]

* - Thanks to E-Flux and Jens Hoffmann.
Image on top: Friedrich Appel: Das Museum Fridericianum in Kassel
(hier arbeiteten die Brüder Grimm als kurfürstliche Bibliothekare von 1814 bis 1829). Lithographie, um 1840.]

¶ 12:00 AM

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