November/December 2005

more feature articles:

An Informal Survey


By Cleo Cacoulidis

Curating Now (Part II):
An Ongoing, Informal Report

Eva González-Sancho, Bruce Grenville, Enrico Lunghi and Terrie Sultan conclude our assessment of curating as a field in transition, and provide historical and conceptual contexts for their own work.

Pedro Cabrita Reis, True Gardens #3 [Dijon], 2004, Frac Bourgogne (courtesy of Frac Bourgogne, Dijon; André Morin, Paris)

Eva González-Sancho

What is the most memorable curatorial project you have ever encountered? What was important about it?

The most interesting projects are commissioned works for specific places and, often, projects for which the exhibition room is an anachrony. Iâm thinking of my experience of Walter De Mariaâs Earth Room in New York and of Lara Almarceguiâs project I curated here in Dijon, a related intervention that transposed the physical reality of a place.

Define your own curatorial practice and trajectory.

My first exhibitions were monographic and featured new installations by Dora García, Imogen Stidworthy, Harald Thys, and Michael van den Abeele at the Etablissement dâen face, an art center then in an old factory in Brussels. I rapidly decided to move the Etablissement to a smaller and more austere space. The new place inscribed itself in the city to which it was open through a glass window. It worked mostly as a production house for projects. In this space, I developed Legal Space/Public Space, which dealt with the development of public space.

At the FRAC Burgundy in Dijon, I am exploring many different contemporary questions raised by relationships with space: architecture and urbanism, private and public space, legislation and individual freedom, and exhibition space. I am also adding works that deal with space to the collection. The collection already features works by Dan Graham, Maria Norman and Peter Downsbrough. I now buy works that are somehow, and in different ways, in dialogue with them: Jordi Colomer, Jonas Dahlberg, Lara Almarcegui, for example. Iâve also been producing and presenting solo exhibitions of new works by Guillaume Leblon, Pedro Cabrita Reis, Lara Almarcegui and Peter Downsbrough.

How would you chart the development of curatorial practice over the last decade?

I do not have a precise opinion on that. Looking at group exhibitions today, I realize that the fashionable way is to display a simple addition of individualities. This doesnât really interest me.

What curatorial initiative would you like to see undertaken? What is needed now?

I deplore the difficulty of intervening in places other that the exhibition room. Iâm thinking about the real possibilities of public space. I also deplore the pressure that institutions put on projects, the pressure that museumsâ established ways of programming exert on curatorial and artistic projects. We miss out on numerous kinds of practices that directly question the temporality of artworks and their public reception.

Eva González-Sancho is Director of FRAC Bourgogne in Dijon.

Installation view of the Franz West exhibition curated by Bruce Grenville and organized by the Vancouver Art Gallery, May 28÷September 5, 2005 (courtesy of the Vancouver Art Gallery, British Columbia, Canada; photo: Tomas Svab, Vancouver Art Gallery)

Bruce Grenville

What is the most memorable curatorial project you have ever encountered? What was important about it?

The exhibition Lâinforme, mode dâemploi curated by Yve-Alain Bois and Rosalind Krauss at the Centre Georges Pompidou in 1996 remains the most memorable curatorial project that I have encountered. It grouped an unexpected range of artists within a thesis that was surprisingly compelling and yet entirely questionable. The curatorsâ unexpected juxtapositions of historical and contemporary works and their rejection of a linear narrative created an extraordinary opportunity for a reinterpretation of the history and legacy of Surrealism.

Define your own curatorial practice and trajectory.

I began my curatorial practice as a freelance curator, working for various galleries across Canada. In another context, I have described this period of my practice as parasitic. Since I did not have a public body I had to use the body of an institution to survive. It made little difference if the institution was a parallel gallery, a public gallery, or a private gallery. The institution provided a site, an audience, and access to funding. In exchange, the exhibitions I produced brought the institution a type of art and an area of expertise to which they might not otherwise have access. But the parasite is also by definition a kind of interference, a noise that interrupts. The parasite upsets the body; it causes an itch or a fever. It is a static that disrupts the flow within a system. This is what I saw as the most important part of my parasitic existence. I saw it as my role to interfere with the institutionâs process of representation, and where possible to place it in doubt. Where the institution proposed to bring forward a history of art, I saw it as my role to disrupt that narrative, not to offer an alternative history, but rather to reveal the manner in which histories are constructed. Where the institution sought to define the parameters of a practice or to document a body of work, I sought to fragment our sense of that body, to see it in the Deleuzian sense as a body without organs.

Later I joined the staff of a public gallery first in Saskatoon, then in Edmonton, and now in Vancouver. My practice could no longer be described as parasitical, but remained defined by doubt. For me, the primary force at work within an exhibition necessarily deploys doubt÷doubt about the social and artistic narratives that seek to exclude the possibility of doubt. Significantly, this doubt is sustained by living and working within the very same conditions that seek to deny it.

How would you chart the development of curatorial practice over the last decade?

In general, I would point to an escalation and acceleration of curatorial practice in the past decade. Massive exhibitions, grand narratives, and complex installations are produced using a just-in-time-delivery system borrowed from manufacturing and merchandising industries. The best curatorial projects offer an unprecedented insight into contemporary artistic practice on a global scale. The downside is a vast number of exhibitions put together with little forethought and no curatorial investment.

What curatorial initiative would you like to see undertaken? What is needed now?

I would like to see an effective counter-narrative developed that would provide an antidote to the monolithic presence of the commercial gallery system and the concurrent reduction of artistic practice to a narrative of commodity production.

Bruce Grenville is Senior Curator at the Vancouver Art Gallery (1997÷present). His most recent curatorial endeavors were the exhibitions Franz West and Wang Du: Parade. He is also the coordinating curator of Massive Change: The Future of Global Design.

Installation view of Chuck Close Prints: Process and Collaboration, 2003, an exhibition curated by Terrie Sultan and organized by the Blaffer Gallery, the Art Museum of the University of Houston. This exhibition traveled around the U.S.

Terrie Sultan

What is the most memorable curatorial project you have ever encountered? What was important about it?

The Chuck Close Prints: Process and Collaboration exhibition was certainly one of my most memorable projects. This was a true voyage of discovery because I learned so much about the complex process of making such large-scale projects. I was given a real inside view of Closeâs studio practice and his interactions with the master printers because I was able to work with them over such a long period of time. I believe that the exhibition and accompanying publication provide the public access to information that is almost never revealed: how the artist thinks, works through problems, relates to those around him who are essential to the process. The exhibition and book helped make this mysterious thing called creativity transparent. This is an essential aspect of what I hope for in my curatorial practice.

Define your own curatorial practice and trajectory.

I am especially interested in demystifying the creative process÷to privilege how creative decisions are made and why an artist chooses a particular direction÷rather than focusing on the ăobject of value.ä  In all my curatorial work, I seek to make that process available to the viewer.

I began my career as an artist÷or rather, an art student. I received a BFA from Syracuse University College of Visual and Performing Arts, having entered the program with the intention of becoming a professional painter.  In completing this rigorous program, it became clear to me that I wasnât inherently a maker of objects myself, but was keenly intrigued by those who were. Studying art history gave me a solid foundation, but academic research eventually became less compelling to me than spending time with living, working artists. I chose to pursue the ăpracticeä path of a MA in Museum Studies instead of a degree in art history, and then began to work my way up through the ranks. The path was, however, anything but linear. Before starting graduate school, I worked as a Peace Corps volunteer running a newspaper in Western Samoa, in market research for an advertising firm, as new business development manager for an architecture firm, and as programmer for a commercial gallery. The Museum Studies program opened up the museum world to me and thatâs when my path became clear.

How would you chart the development of curatorial practice over the last decade?

It seems that curatorial practice has become more theoretical since 1990, with a strong focus on exhibitions exploring broad themes in contemporary culture over traditional monographic explorations of an artistâs career. Programs dedicated to curatorial practice (such as Bard, de Appel, etc.) have contributed to the growth of this aspect of curatorial practice. I see this as a positive development conceptually. Although also prominent, the rise of the curator as ăstarä or ăstar-makerä is less appealing to me.

What curatorial initiative would you like to see undertaken? What is needed now?

I would like to see more initiatives toward in depth explorations of the work of under-recognized artists (such as Lee Bontecue or James Surls, for example) and less emphasis on the ănewest, youngest, hottestä artist. I believe that we are ignoring artists who have made significant contributions to the contemporary discourse in the quest for the new.

Terrie Sultan is Director of Blaffer Gallery, the Art Museum of the University of Houston (2000÷present). Prior to her appointment at Blaffer, she was Curator of Contemporary Art at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, DC. Over the course of her twenty-year career she has organized more than fifty exhibitions with accompanying publications. Her most recent projects include Chuck Close Prints: Process and Collaboration, Jessica Stockholder: Kissing the Wall, and James Surls: The Splendora Years. In 2003, Ms. Sultan was named Chevalier of the Order of Arts and Letters by the French government for her work encouraging cultural exchange between France and the U.S.

Sylvie Blocher, La sauteuse (lapsus nˇ 1), 2002, video installation (courtesy of Casino Luxembourg; photo: Sylvie Blocher)

Enrico Lunghi

What is the most memorable curatorial project you have ever encountered? What was important about it?

Quite a few projects have marked me significantly, each in a different way.  For instance, Bert Theisâ Potemkin Lock at the 1995 Venice Biennial was an incredible adventure. We struggled greatly to realize this project with almost no money, no team (the artist, myself, and our girlfriends) and at the limits of legality. Located between Belgiumâs and the Netherlandsâ pavilions, it was a wood construction painted white and accessible through a corridor where Marcel Duchamp could be heard rapping. Behind the façade was a little garden with reclining chairs. It was very successful÷actually the only ănationalä participation by a pavilion-less country in the Giardini that year. Thatâs quite a performance·

Another important project for me was a series of three exhibitions÷Un bel été, Stanley Brouwn, and Un bel été 3÷which I co-curated with Michel Assenmaker and Eric Brunier between 1997 and 2003. This unique collaborative experience allowed us to share ideas, and to reflect on the roles and responsibilities of exhibitions, institutions, curators, and artists.

Finally, to mention just another one (but I could go on·), the presentation of Annick and Anton Herbertâs collection in 2000 was also memorable: an intense dialogue developed with these wonderful collectors, as we were trying to understand their thirty-year commitment to contemporary art. 

Define your own curatorial practice and trajectory.

I studied engineering before I turned to art. Somehow, this helps me see things from another perspective. After traditional studies of art history, I worked as an assistant at the National Museum in Luxembourg. The focus was on ancient art there, and I helped organize many exhibitions of Old Mastersâ works. This was really interesting and it taught me a lot about work in an institution. At the same time, I wrote articles about contemporary art in Luxembourg and about exhibitions abroad for newspapers and magazines. I struggled to earn money to live and gain experience in a world I hardly knew.

I curated my first show in 1994 with Wim Beeren: it was called Rendez-vous provoqué, and featured works by Dutch and Luxembourg artists. To my great surprise, it generated a lot of discussion in our city. I curated Luxembourgâs participation at the 1995 Venice Biennale, and again in 1999. A small team came together in 1995 to launch the Casino Luxembourg, which opened in 1996. Here, I seek to engage the context in which our institution operates, to transform it slowly, and to readapt the institution to this ever-changing context. This dialogue is essential to me. Such engagement with different contexts has led to projects like Re:Location 1-7 / Shake in 2002-2004, for instance.

How would you chart the development of curatorial practice over the last decade?

The growing number of art institutions and the use of contemporary art as a socio-economical engine emphasize the event character of curatorial practice and lead to the spectacularization of both curatorial and artistic practices. Itâs interesting to see that biennials and art fairs are now the meeting points for the art world and the most discussed÷or, at least, the most promoted÷events, even in the specialized art press. Very, very few shows still attract attention because of their inherent qualities: marketing and promotion are better tools for success than work based on knowledge and its transmission. Both art and curatorial practice seem to follow the generalized social trends towards managerial thinking with a narrow economic horizon, despite all claims of being intellectually independent and philosophically prospective practices. I think itâs everyoneâs responsibility to choose what kind of game to play. Itâs very hard to be out of the mainstream and to follow sincere and personal feelings, probably like it always was. Yet, to me, itâs still the most existentially satisfying experience.

What curatorial initiative would you like to see undertaken? What is needed now?

I canât speak about what is needed in general·. The world÷of which the art world is a little part÷will get what most of its people are dreaming of, and what they are ready to fight for.

Iâm interested in giving artists the opportunity to show their works freely and to communicate this intellectual and esthetic experience to as many human beings as possible. This supposes the development of sustainable institutional tools and long-term human relations. I like to follow the work of artists over years÷as I have with Sylvie Blocher, Simone Decker, Sam Samore, Nedko Solakov, Grazia Toderi, and others. I like to develop long-term exchanges with curators (for Un bel été, Re: Location, and other projects) and with the public (around the Casino Luxembourg for ten years). I also like to trade experiences, develop possibilities for shared knowledge, and link artistic practices across European countries. Much needs to be done in order to improve communication between artists from Eastern and Western Europe for instance.

Iâm less interested in following geo-strategic trends that are beyond my human experience, even if Iâm aware of the limitations that this implies. I know that it is not very fashionable to proceed like this, but I still prefer the pleasure of aesthetic and intellectual independence over the comfort of business as usual.

Enrico Lunghi is Artistic Director of the Casino Luxembourg.


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