Curator, Writer, and Museum Administrator

Books for Curators

"On Curating: Interviews with Ten International Curators" by Carolee Thea

On Curating: Interviews with Ten International Curators

On Curating: Interviews with Ten International Curatorsby 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).

These are people with complex career paths, many of which cross several national borders in addition to job definitions (critic, artist, curator, dealer, etc.) As such, they operate in a realm of the visual art world that is different than my immediate experience. I can't even keep track of all the biennials, triennials, festivals, and more mentioned in these relatively short essays. And there is a large focus on politics and social engagement, which isn't my strength in terms of curating.

But the interviews are quite engaging. They are short, almost too short, but Thea jumps right into issues and ideas, often focusing on a specific complex project, such as Gioni's collaboratively curated 4th Berlin Biennial, or Enwezor's Documenta XI from 2002. While I'm not familiar enough with these specific exhibitions/events to comment on the curators' own thoughts, I will say that Thea does a good job of pushing the curators to really consider their approaches to projects and their outcomes. In the interview with Russian curator Joseph Backstein, Thea calls him out for trivializing if not romanticizing the Soviet era, actually saying to him in response to his comments "This is bogus." That's fun to read in an interview, having a person actually respond to an answer as opposed to following a script.

Unlike A Brief History of Curating, which featured interviews with curators by Hans Ulrich Obrist, On Curating has LOADS of photographs, if not of the exhibitions being discussed then of artworks by artists mentioned in the interview. This helps tremendously, particularly if the reader, like myself, is not "in the know" with these projects.

I found this idea put forth by Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev interesting: "Hans Ulrich Obrist employs a Boetti strategy, providing simple rules to produce a kind of chaos, and another order arises. This is creative curating: taking over the creative side too much, the curator may seem to become the artist and the artworks may seem to be illustrations of his or her idea, but in reality, the curator is playing a game, creating a decoy which may seem protagonistic but is actually a device, a magic trick to keep the interface between the world at large and art in a state of positive misunderstanding." I love that idea, of an exhibition as a decoy.

I was surprised for some reason by how much I enjoyed the interview with Gioni, he was more straightforward and candid than I expected. Here's a great quote regarding the art world: "It goes in cycles, but without the artist, none of this exists."

That's reassuring to read, don't you think?

Elizabeth Schlatter