Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Curating* But Were Afraid to Ask

Although it seems as if this book will be about the influential, international, contemporary art curator Hans Ulrich Obrist, actually, the book is about itself. It’s a meta sort of publication that asserts its editorial choices so frequently that delving into the content of the subject’s thoughts becomes particularly challenging. I should’ve known this from just glancing at the back cover, which provides a summary of sorts, with phrases crossed out for emphasis and a character called the interfinity mark embossed and floating above the text.
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Raising Frankenstein: Curatorial Education and Its Discontents

This slim and slightly disjointed book offers five presentations turned into brief essays and one panel discussion regarding academic and nonacademic curatorial training, all by participants in a 2008 conference titled “Trade Secrets: Education/Collection/History” organized by the Banff International Curatorial Institute in Canada. Intended to address the “education and formation of curators,” the text on the back of the book says “At its heart lies the single question ‘Where does the curatorial profession reside?’” Of course, there is no answer to that question, either in the book or elsewhere.
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"Relational Aesthetics" by Nicolas Bourriaud

When I began this book I jokingly thought to myself, "Welcome to the 1990s!" And when I finished it I thought, "Thank God that's over!" -- Not the decade but the book. This was a tough read. I've said before I struggle with theory. Despite having just 114 pages, almost each one became a battle of will. And I was not aided by the awkward, typo-ridden translation from French. Nonetheless, I felt like I had to complete the assignment because while the focus of Bourriaud's treatise is the work of artists, the motives and activities described by the author are bleeding into the motives and activities of contemporary curators -- whether they were already there is a matter for further debate.
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"The Avant-Garde in Exhibition: New Art in the 20th Century" by Bruce Altshuler

While there are countless art history books, the number of tomes dedicated to the history of exhibitions is much slimmer. Thus Bruce Altshuler's analysis of avant-garde exhibitions in the 20th century is an invaluable resource, particularly in learning more about how the exhibitions developed, what they actually presented, and what happened to the participants afterwards. Altshuler begins with notable Parisian exhibitions of the Fauves in 1905 and Cubists in 1912, and includes the Armory exhibition in New York in 1913, the Nazi's infamous exhibition of Degenerate Art in 1937, and the minimalist sculpture show "Primary Structures" in New York in 1966 among others. But of particular interest to me was his final chapter, which focused on two exhibitions of conceptual art; "January 5-31, 1969" organized by New York dealer Seth Siegelaub and "When Attitudes Become Form: Works-Processes-Concepts-Situations-Information (Live in Your Head)," curated by uber-curator Harald Szeemann for the Kunsthalle Bern, Switzerland, also in 1969.
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"Cautionary Tales: Critical Curating"

Lately I seem to notice ever more published collections of essay by curators, often featuring the usual “suspects.” But this relatively slim collection published by Apexart offers some different voices and definitely some different styles and ideas amongst the authors. Though almost every writer mentions Harald Szeemann’s 1969 exhibition “ Live in your Head: When Attitudes Become Form,” because several of these articles are focused on independent curating.
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"Ice Cream: Contemporary Art in Culture"

This book is the fourth in the Cream series of publications by Phaidon in which 10 "hot" curators pick 10 "hot" artists each to write about. Titles include Cream in 1998, Fresh Cream in 2000, Cream 3 in 2003, Ice Cream in 2007 and forthcoming Creamier due July 2010. Because I am at times insecure and snarky, it behooves me to make fun of these coffee-table tomes as being rather cheesy (no lactose pun intended.) Although I will admit to loving the book's iridescent cover as when I lay it on my desk it beckons people from across the hall.
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"Museum Legs" by Amy Whitaker

Amy Whitaker’s “Museum Legs” is a refreshing, smart, and creative collection of essays regarding museums and visual art, with a focus on how museums and art could be more engaging and relevant to more people. As Whitaker herself says, the ever-growing library of published texts on museum studies is riddled with “Foucault-bombs.” However, Whitaker’s approach on the topic, while still grounded in art and museum theory, is highly readable and even at times humorous. And she presents her ideas in well-buttressed arguments that flow from one chapter to the next, interspersed with personal anecdotes and observations.
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"On Curating: Interviews with Ten International Curators" by Carolee Thea

This is a slim but dense collection of 10 interviews conducted by independent curator and scholar Carolee Thea, garnered I believe between 2000 and 2008. The focus is on internationalism with an impressive roster: Joseph Backstein (Art Director of the Moscow Biennale of Contemporary Art), Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev (curator of the 2012 Documenta), Okwui Enwezor (director of the Haus de Kunst, Munich, Germany), Charles Esche (director of the Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven, Netherlands), Massimiliano Gioni (associate director at the New Museum in NY and 2013 Venice Biennale curator), RoseLee Goldberg (founder of PERFORMA festival in NY), Mary Jane Jacob, (Professor and Executive Director of Exhibitions and Exhibition Studies, The School of the Art Institute of Chicago), Pi Li (Senior Curator at M+, a new museum of visual culture in Hong Kong, scheduled to open in 2017), Virginia Perez-Ratton (who passed away in 2010 but was a director and curator in Costa Rica), and Rirkrit Tiravanija (master of all enterprises, living in NY, Bangkok, and Berlin).
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"A Brief History of Curating" by Hans Ulrich Obrist

I struggled to finish this book. I blame myself as well as the publication. Here’s where I’m at fault: - I’m not overly familiar with the history of curating and especially not in countries outside of the U.S. [although it should be noted that all but one of the featured curators comes from Europe & the U.S. Walter Zanini is from Sao Paulo]. And this book doesn’t provide much in the way of background for readers not up to speed on pivotal contemporary art exhibitions from the 1950s to 1990s.
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"Curating Immateriality (Data Browser)"

Okay, I'm going to be honest and just say that I could barely finish this book. Which is not meant to be a criticism of the publication as much as an acknowledgement of my intellectual limitations and lack of deep interest in art on the Internet. At least, I think that's what this book was about. The only essay that I could really penentrate was Christiane Paul's "Flexible Context, Democratic Filtering, and Computer-Aided Curating." Paul discusses the changes and opportunties that on-line curating brings, while also providing a brief history of online curating.
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"Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations" by Clay Shirky

This isn't a book about curating per se, but it's an incredibly thorough look at how new technology, especially Web 2.0, is altering the professionalism of several industries (e.g. journalism) while also allowing for people to "gather" electronically and bring about change, from keeping a TV show from being cancelled to instigating a political revolution. I've had several people now recommend the chapter on the amateur-ization on journalism & publishing as it can be an analogy to the future of curators.
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"Collecting the New: Museums and Contemporary Art"

To be honest, this book was somewhat disappointing. If features heavy hitters in the mainly American art museum world, like Robert Storr of MOMA, Howard Fox of LACMA, new media curatorial star Steve Dietz, and Lowery Stokes Sims of the Studio Museum. But despite the promising title, the chapters are divided into the same categories that museums have always divided their collections, namely, by media and by cultures. Of this approach, even Altshuler in his intro states, "In fact, new forms of cultural production and new ways of thinking about them, as well as changes connected with globalization and ethnic hybridization, call into question two of the book's central divisions."
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"Museums of Tomorrow (Issues in Cultural Theory)"

Museums of Tomorrow (Issues in Cultural Theory) by Maxwell Anderson, George Baker, Alexander ALberro, Donna De Salvo

Published in 2004, this is the transcript of a 2-week online symposium of curators, museum directors, educators, art historians, and artists. It's surprisingly readable, considering I think it contains long e-mailed postings as content. But Maurice Berger, curator at the Center for Art and Visual Culture, does a great job engendering thoughtful and honest comments. Some topics are all-too-common, e.g. the rise of the corporate model for museums or the struggle between museum educators and curators. And some participants seem to present lists of their own institution's accomplishments rather than jumping in and joining the argument. But many of the responses are very thoughtful and even critical of one another. It's great to hear some of the curators talk about their vision for museums without towing the typical party line.

"Art and the Power of Placement" by Victoria Newhouse

Art and the Power of Placement

Art and the Power of Placement by Victoria Newhouse

Although I refer to this book often, it both intrigues and frustrates me. Something of a companion to Victoria Newhouse’s impressive tome on architecture, Towards A New Museum (1998), this 304-page book is filled with photographs and illustrations, thorough research, and insightful writing about the effect of physical context on artwork. One particularly enlightening chapter presents a methodical comparison of various installations of paintings by Jackson Pollock in private homes, commercial galleries, and museums. Two critics—one in Art in America and the other in the New Criterion—proclaimed, “no museum professional should be without this book” and that it should “be an obligatory read for all who have anything to do with the placement of art.” However, as a previous reader rightly noted, the majority of the photographs Newhouse employs lack the most important element of context: viewers. And the final section of the book, entitled “Placing Art,” which includes short segments on topics like wall color, scale, and labels, reads more as a brief compendium of exhibition “do’s and don’ts” than the thoughtful analysis in the earlier chapters. Maybe my problem is I just don’t like being told what to do.

"Words of Wisdom: A Curator's Vade Mecum"

Words of Wisdom: A Curator's Vade Mecum

Words of Wisdom: A Curator's Vade Mecum

Published by Independent Curators International, this compendium of short essays about the profession offers conflicting advice ["curating is an art form" and "curating is not an art form"] but it's still interesting to read various authors' ideas about what it takes to excel in the field. In her short essay titled "Vade Mecum? I Wonder" Maria Hlavajova wrote, "If Microsoft Word ever recognized the word 'curating' it would make me a little sad." I love that quote. Other notables in selection include Trevor Fairbrother, Thelma Golden, Robert Hobbs, Lucy Lippard, and Marcia Tucker. 

"Seven Days in the Art World"

Seven Days in the Art World by Sarah Thornton

Okay, this book is really just a guilty pleasure. Not especially helpful in the realm of curating but it was enlightening to read behind-the-scenes info about Christie's auction house, the Art Basel art fair, ArtForum, the Tate's Turner Prize Process, and a crit-from-hell class at CalArts.