anne-laure oberson collects curates creates [selected material]      < < <
_I curate, you curate, we curate... [pix]

I curate, you curate, we curate, …
by Anne-Laure Oberson

By definition, the curator takes care. Most often today, the curator selects, whether from a limited amount of artworks, the collection of the institution he works for, or from the potentially infinite quantity of artworks available out there in the vast world. This process of selection is either influenced, guided by the concept, idea, theme that the curator has set his mind on working on, or by the artworks themselves, which raise issues, make statements and lead him to pick up on this or that concern. Either way, the result will be the presentation of a definite selection under a new or simply different perspective and context than the artworks would be perceived individually or in other groups.

If this is so, these two questions are worth elaborating further: the method and the source. But perhaps I should make clear first that I am only and specifically speaking about curating group shows; not that curating solo shows is of less interest, but it raises other questions than the ones I would like to tackle here. Curating a solo show requires such a degree of expertise in a particular body of work that if about anybody can curate a group show, not anybody can a solo show. And it is within this context of the open-ended, undefined character of the position of the curator, rather than its scholastic one, that the debate is especially interesting.

The method. What comes first? The idea or the artwork?
Whether the curator chooses works according to an idea he has, a subject that interests him or of which he has knowledge. In this case, he chooses works so that they fit, or rather, illustrate his concept and the exhibition has all the chances of being a very successful, intelligent show - relative to the curator’s skills of demonstrating and soundly arguing his idea - but perhaps not such an emotional and inspiring show, as by necessity some, if not most, of the works will be devoid of their original message, intention and openness to interpretation. Their meanings will be narrowed to the one allotted by the curator’s chosen and applied context, achieving at best symbiosis and concurrence of ideas, at worst senseless cacophony.
Or whether the artworks seen and remembered by the curator along his peregrinations call for his attention on particular sets of issues, that they themselves bring afloat. The curator then puts these different bodies of work or individual works by different artists in contact because they address these relevant and similar issues and the need for an exhibition sketches itself out, springs, almost organically; as opposed to the more artificial procedure of submitting an image to a given text. I am not trying to say that one method is better than the other as all that really matter is the pertinence and coherence of the result, which perhaps is best achieved when a combination of both practices is exercised.

The source. Where from do you choose artworks? Which is the pool of selection at hand, how is it mapped out? This question has a determinant role - more than we admit or are aware of - in the final outcome of the project but it is rarely addressed. The answer is simpler if we talk about institutional curators working with a set collection; even though they may still borrow additional works from other institutions or private collectors, they must work within the given orientation of their institution, which gives them a preliminary preset context for making choices. The same curator will doubtfully curate the same show for MoMA or for Beaubourg: matters of geography, demography of the public, politics – internal as well as external to the institution, inherited practice, level of authority, etc., still greatly differ from institution to institution. Travelling exhibitions, the blockbuster shows that fit as well in New York, Stockholm or Paris, are not exactly the most innovative or risky shows. As independent curators are concerned, their source is theoretically limitless. Of course, only on paper. What is at reach for any given curator will depend on his notoriety, status, experience, budget, and actually primarily on the venue chosen to receive the exhibition. But then, what he knows, who he knows, where he is from, his religion, his gender, his personal taste, where he studied, what he studied, etc. are also determinant factors of how the source automatically shrinks or is unconsciously mapped out by the curator himself, before having made any choices yet.

How much does a visitor knows about these factors that have shaped, beyond the theme presented, the show he is visiting? Thus, a key quality of an excellent curator would be his skills to make-do with what is finally at his hand. Compromise. Which curator has not made the experience of wanting a certain work but only being able to get a smaller piece, an older available version, a less fragile one, some utterly different or none at all? So what is to do? Drop the project altogether, find a replacement work with great ingenuity, or inform the viewer? Let’s consider the latter for a moment, why not? It would read: “What I intended to show you was this, but actually you are seeing that, but it’s ok!”. In a time when exhibitions are more and more conceived as experiments, when even institutions claim their identities as laboratories, then perhaps a little insider information would be allowed, dare I say, welcomed, or needed; and if not on a notice at the entrance of the show, at least in the discourse.

The role and position of the curator have evolved, as much as the role and position of the museum and the institution have evolved. There are more curators – of all kinds – and there are more exhibition venues and opportunities - of all kinds too. But strangely, the authority of the exhibition as an entity has remained the same, is not being questioned. It is still taken at face value. Since the mechanisms of curating have changed and are currently so vague, it seems extremely important that these mechanisms be exposed and even became part of the exhibition.

This is where my contribution with an unrealised curated project comes in, as the above served as an introduction to the following exercise, that I hope will help illustrate in a playful way some of these mechanisms.

Below you will find the checklist of my “unrealised curated project”, an imaginary exhibition, which I have curated especially for this purpose. I had to make many choices and work with some self-imposed constrains, such as choosing works that would be widely know or could be easily identifiable. I also had to work under a very tight time frame, which limited the scope of my research and the complexity of the project. But it’s a start and the point is not so much into the quality of the exhibition itself as into the exercise I propose.
Here, I release only the list of works and names of artists. Upon reading this list, you will inevitably form in your mind a mental picture, first of the separate works and then of the works together; you will create a mental imaginary exhibition for yourself. All these virtual shows will form my “unrealised curated project”.
In a separate essay, that has been sealed and mailed by the time of this publication, I reveal all the additional information, the title of the exhibition, its concept, the planned display of the works, etc. I am inviting you, the reader, to compose your own version of this exhibition, to curate an exhibition with this given list of works. Of course some works could be omitted, some added or some replaced by other works from the same artists, just as any curator would do working from a given collection. Everyone playing the game will come up with a radically different exhibition even though the works featured are identical. In the end all these unrealised, post-rationalised exhibitions could be compared, the mechanisms discussed and the substance to a future realisable project given light. Thus, I encourage readers to write down their exhibition project and mail it to the publisher.

List of works* (in alphabetical order)

Chris Burden, LAPD Uniform, 1993, wool, metal, leather, wood and plastic, installation

Caravaggio (Michelangelo Merisi), Narciso, oil on canvas, 115,5 x 97,5 cm

Cézanne, Bather, c. 1885, oil on canvas, 127 x 96.8 cm

Cimabue, Madonna and Child Enthroned with Eight Angels and Four Prophets (Maestà), 1280, Tempera on panel, 375 xz 220 cm

Jeremy Deller, The Battle of Orgeave, 2001, film

Thomas Demand, The Bathroom, 1997, color print, 160 x 122 cm

Rineke Dijkstra, Hilton Head Island, S. C., USA, June 24, 1992, c-print, 151.8 x 121.4 cm

Robert Gober, Untitled, 1989-90, Wax, cotton, leather, human hair, and wood, 28.9 x 19.7 x 50.8 cm

Rodney Graham, Oxfordshire Oak, Banford, Fall, 1990, b&w print, 47 x 41 cm

Hagesandros, Athenodoros, Polydoros of Rhodes, Laocoon, end of II century BC, marble, height 240 cm

Ilya Kabakov, The Apartment of Nikolai Viktorovich, 1994, installation

Yves Klein, IKB 79, 1959, paint on canvas on wood, 139.7 x 119.7 x 3.2 cm

Bruce Nauman, Hanging Heads #2 (Blue Andrew with plug / White Julie, mouth closed), 1989, wax and wire, each 29 x 25 x 17 cm

Claes Oldenburg, Extinguished Match, 1987, latex coated uethan foam, 240 x 690 x 80 cm

Sven Pahlsson, Sprawlville, 2001, 10 min, video projection

Jackson Pollock, Full Fathom Five, 1947, oil on canvas with nails, tacks, buttons, key, coins, cigarettes, matches,…, 129.2 x 76.5 cm

Charles Ray, Male Mannequin, 1990, mixed media, 184.7 x 70 x 50 cm

Andreas Serrano, The Morgue: Infectious Pneumonia, 1992, cibachrome, 128 x 156 cm

Cindy Sherman, Untitled #113, 1982, c-print, 112.5 x 74.9 cm

Jeff Wall, Milk, 1984, color transparency and lightbox, 205 x 249 cm

*These works are purposefully not illustrated here. Illustrations are available from the author.

< < <
all material copyright anne-laure oberson unless stated otherwise