Since the original title of this panel was “Museums and the Reality Principle,” the artist-listener might have expected an adrenal in-rousing discourse on exhibition politics, how artists are chosen or ignored, the manipulations of trustees, the perfidy of curators and their lovers, etc. Instead, the Reality Principle at issue quite reasonably concerned the costs of running a museum, the problems of attracting a broad public, and how, having done so, not to go broke being popular. Hilton Kramer described the task of a museum over the past thirty years as changed, from an agency showing classics of modern art to an institution whose function is also to introduce new and emerging artists and movements.
The Serbian sculptor Marko Marković has expressed an interest in museum conservation departments and in the process of finding, restoring, and preparing objects for exhibition. For him, the final display is as much the work of archeologists and conservators as it is the labor of artists, artisans, and curators. In addition, Marković is not a fan of the normal exhibition catalogue for an artist, with an art historian or curator explaining the art. He would rather provide a fictional document for audiences to follow, to create something believable beyond the contemporary artist’s professional requirements to present work in galleries, have a portfolio website, and give talks.
Theater of Exhibitions, a slender new book by Jens Hoffmann published by Sternberg Press, offers fifteen brief chapters on curatorial work. While Hoffmann, a 41-year-old curator, writer, and deputy director of exhibitions and programs at the Jewish Museum in New York, rarely mentions specific works of art, he discusses his own exhibitions and criticizes—in a casual way—the alliance between museums and the wealthy, the blandness of international biennials, the overproduction of artists, and the extension of curatorial work into publications, conferences, screenings, and workshops. Unlike Hans-Ulrich Obrist, whose recent reflections on the profession were published in Ways of Curating, Hoffmann is not a storyteller. Instead he writes gently provocative essays that immediately make you agree or disagree with him.
To conclude the conference “Exhibit A: Authorship on Display,” two speakers—a curator and an art historian—offered their thoughts on the day’s events. Dieter Roelstraete, a curator at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, spoke polemically about the conference theme, wanting his remarks to be “a case and a plea” for a curatorial attitude that “shouldn’t be ashamed of its aesthetic ambitions and its aesthetic aspirations.” In contrast to this passionate approach, his session colleague, David Joselit, professor of art history at the Graduate Center, commented briefly on several points raised during the conference.
For artists, the solo exhibition reigns supreme. For curators, it’s the group show. From major events such as the Venice Biennale, Documenta, and Whitney Biennial to curator-driven institutions like the Wattis Institute in San Francisco, Witte de With in Rotterdam, and MoMA PS1 in New York, the authorial curator’s name has typically transcended the artworks on view (or so the story goes). While the art-publishing industry ceaselessly cranks out new books on curatorial issues—nearly always an edited, multiauthored tome—few critical studies have considered the theory and practice of showing the work of a single artist, which is perhaps the bread and butter of art museums worldwide.
“Exhibiting Experiments,” the first session of “Exhibit A: Authorship on Display,” comprised two graduate students and a fresh PhD recipient and was moderated by Grant Johnson, a doctoral student in art history at the Graduate Center. Each speaker presented research on a single case study: unrealized projects by the Swiss curator Harald Szeemann and two group exhibitions from the 1960s, Dylaby at the Stedelijk Museum and Art by Telephone at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago.
Boris Groys presented a keynote address called “The Museum as Gesamkunstwerk” to kick off a daylong conference, “Exhibit A: Authorship on Display,” that explored historical and contemporary approaches to organizing exhibitions. His accent made it difficult for me to concentrate, and he repeatedly chuckled at what seemed like minor disciplinary quibbles between he and other theorists. He relayed that, according to the nineteenth-century composer Richard Wagner, “the artist of the future must be radically indifferent” and boldly claimed that “dictatorship is a curatorial project” and documentation of it supplies nostalgia for the ephemeral event.
Yandro Miralles is trying not to be “the Cuban guy,” but because he has two more years as a fellow with the Cuban Artists Fund, an organization based in New York, the moniker may be unavoidable. The independent curator from Havana recently spoke about his recent activities with Cuban artists to an intimate gathering of about twenty people for the first Third Tuesday, a new public program from Independent Curators International.
Influence is a tricky, elusive thing. The organizers of an exhibition at the Visual Arts Gallery in Chelsea, Amy Smith-Stewart and Carrie Lincourt, confront the topic as it related to BFA and MFA graduates from the School of Visual Arts in New York. For The Influentials, the two curators selected nineteen women artists, among them Inka Essenhigh, Kate Gilmore, and Yuko Shimizu, who chose a second artist whose work has had a significant impact on their own.