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Bard conference on curatorial practice, Day 1 – Live coverage by Karen Archey

The Future Curatorial What Not and Study What? Conundrum

Symposium organized by LUMA Foundation and CCS Bard in partnership with Valand Art Academy, University of Gothenburg; Afterall Books: Exhibition Histories and Central Saint Martins, University of Arts London; and de Appel Arts Centre.

November 6–8, 2014
Bard College
Annandale-on-Hudson, NY

Entitled The Future Curatorial What Not and Study What? Conundrum, the symposium will include presentations by Nancy Adajania, Mélanie Bouteloup, Thomas Boutoux, Luis Camnitzer, Eddie Chambers, Nikita Yingqian Cai, Zasha Colah and Sumesh Sharma (Clark House Initiative), Common Practice New York (CPNY), Elvira Dyangani Ose, Galit Eilat, Annie Fletcher, Liam Gillick, Koyo Kouoh, Miguel A. López, Hans Ulrich Obrist, Tobias Ostrander, Joao Ribas, Sarah Rifky, Simon Sheikh, David Teh, What, How and for Whom, Jelena Vesić and Vladimir Jerić, Vivian Ziherl, and others. The moderators and respondents will be Lorenzo Benedetti, Suhail Malik, Paul O’Neill, Lucy Steeds, Jeannine Tang and Mick Wilson.

Given the extraordinary expansion of curatorial research and its surrounding debates, the focus of this international conference, organized collaboratively by four of the world’s most prominent curatorial programs asks not “what is next” but rather the more urgent and durable question of “what futures?” This is a question asked with deliberate intention to carry forward the various critical projects framed within curatorial production of the last two decades. The question “What future?” becomes also “Whose futures?” and “Whose agency to frame possible futures?”


Writer and curator Karen Archey will provide live coverage of this event for e-flux conversations. She previously provided live coverage of the Extinction Marathon at Serpentine Gallery in London, October 18–19, 2014.


We are enclosed—in what seems like yet another attempt to be horizontal, non-linear and “what not.” So, the seating arrangement at the Bard conference is a negative canopy as artistic infiltration—most conducive to neck ache. An introduction ensues down the passage of “curatorial study” in past, present and future paradigms.

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The crowd at Bard’s curatorial symposium Thursday morning

Good morning from the Hessel Museum of Art! Director of Bard’s Graduate Program Paul O’Neill has kicked off the symposium with some thoughts on the urgencies of curatorial research. Given that curatorial practice has been given a place in broader contemporary culture (i.e. you can “curate” your spice rack), how do we speak about it in an academic rhetoric? The playfulness of the title “The Future Curatorial What Not & Study What? Conundrum,” O’Neill says, represents a tiredness with speaking about curatorial practice in a dry way. Within an educational context, he says, we as both curators and pedagogues address the future.

Kudos to O’Neill on his opening remarks thus far, but I feel like there’s an elephant in the room: What purchase does curatorial practice have on the world at large?


Feels like we’re stuck in a cave made up of Charlotte Posenenske and Fred Sandback pieces.


The title sounds like something Liam Gillick would come up with…


Eddie Chambers makes a fascinating start, drawing upon his research on ‘Black Artists in British Art’ and exhibition chronology since the 1950s. On digging up of exhibitions that have been cast into obscurity, re-excavated through “partial documents” such as posters, brochures and catalogues.
Thus, proceeding with caution in enabling an exhibition archeology as reading pasts.


Our first presenter is art historian Eddie Chambers, who focuses on historical elision of black artists working in the United Kingdom. He has written a book titled “Black Artists in British Art: A History Since the 1950s,” published in July 2014.

From his website:

“Black artists have been making major contributions to the British art scene for decades, since at least the middle of the 20th century. Sometimes, these artists – with backgrounds in the countries of Africa, the Caribbean, and Asia – were regarded and embraced as British practitioners of note and merit. At other times, particularly during the 1970s and 1980s, they were not. In response, on occasion, Black artists came together and made their own exhibitions or created their own gallery spaces. In this book, Eddie Chambers tells the story of Britain’s Black artists, from the 1950s onwards, including recent developments and successes.”

He shows the obituaries for artists Maud Sulter, who is of Ghanaian and Scottish descent, and Brenda Agard. The influence of these artists, already underknown while they were alive, Chambers says, basically disappeared after their death.

Chambers ends with an interesting thought: If an artist is presented as “new” it is detrimental to an artist’s career in the long run, as their newness (which is tied to their worth) depletes in time, and the artist eventually fades to obscurity. And so often, artists from marginalized perspectives are presented as new, and fall into this conundrum of newness and eventual vanishing.


Also the artist Brenda Agard is basically un-Google-able. If anyone has any information about her, I would very much appreciate a link or PDF.

Thin Black Line(s) Tate Britain 2011/12 catalog


Thank you! Makes me wonder how much more visible we can be after death in an internet age. Well, as long as we have websites and someone pays the hosting bill. :wink:

Not to derail the conversation with a complete divergence, but the Heaven’s Gate homepage is still up and running, there was an interesting article in Gizmodo about this.

Every month, the bills get paid on time. The emails get answered, and any orders filled. Which, for HeavensGate.com, is positively extraordinary. Because as far as the public is aware, every last member of the suicide cult died 17 years ago from a cocktail of arsenic and apple sauce. A few stayed behind, though. Someone had to keep the homepage going.

Avoiding an individual’s responsibility to maintain such archival in the internet age is evident in the work of archive.org and Rhizome’s webenact platform.

Granted, the implications of cloud-based permanence are also evident.


Click on the photo for a readable, expanded version!

Independent curator Jelena Vesić and media researcher Vladimir Jerić spoke somewhat erratically about rejecting conventional modes of artistic canonization. ¯\(ツ)/¯ Admittedly, the talk was a little bit incomprehensible… I’d imagine this is the result of attempting to reinvent systems of thought–it’s confusing! Above is the outline of their talk if you’d like to parse things out yourself.

When pushed by a commenter, Jerić posed an interesting question: If professional opportunities are largely doled out through systems of corroboration based on class, race and geography, how do we upset this system? How do we institutionalize opportunities for the less privileged, rather than offer tokenistic positions that pigeonhole persons coming from these “diverse” positions into only being an expert on their subject position? (i.e. Curator of Black Art or Curator of Feminism.)

Wonder what’ll happen to e-flux site…


[1]:e - f l u x


Jelena Vesić and Vladimir Jerić’s joint presentation remained buoyed between the language of enchantment and disenchantment while “attacking the cannon of contemporaneity.” However, these loops of curatorial self-critique largely reveal a detached modality of preservation rather than meaningful disavowal.

Such discussions need to remain relativized, and cross-referenced. Look up, a previous conference Raising Frankenstein: Curatorial Education and Its Discontents which took place at Banff not too long ago.

Eddie Chambers provokes us to move past the construct of a curator as ‘entrepreneurial subject’ but rather as artistic acts often submit - to think: what it means to “sustain a moment” and “become an emphatic part of a dominant history”.

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I can’t avoid being surprised by the fact that the byline is longer than the topic description.

In relation to the topic of the talk I wonder if both speakers discussed the fact that curatorial practices need to constantly write and re-write a canon in order to fully consolidate a yet new professional figure - that of the curator (and therefore feed the production of theory and educational materials and platforms: courses, books, etc), and the need for the single author/curator to use the canon (and the semi-automatic historicisation of the recent past/present) as a mechanism of direct or indirect recognition and insertion within a history.


Edouard Manet’s unique painting, “Le Suicidé” 1887

João Ribas, Deputy Director and Senior Curator of Serralves Museum of Contemporary Art in Porto, Portugal, is talking about a surprisingly overlooked topic in exhibition history: the solo exhibition.

Well, maybe it isn’t so surprising that solo shows aren’t a popular topic in curatorial discourse. Of course curators want to talk about curating group shows–it’s where their authorship is most explicitly expressed.

Through a litany of examples stemming from 18th century salons, Ribas builds a chronology of artist exhibition hanging preferences and idiosyncrasies that have changed curatorial practice. Baudelaire, for example, was too overwhelmed by a Salon-style presentation of Delacroix’s work that he gave up on cataloging it. As we all know, curatorial practice soon favored a pared down, horizontal, linear hanging style.

The lack of attention paid to solo exhibitions is probably due to the market-driven function of these shows, posits Ribas. But it remains a blind spot in conversations about exhibition history. Can curatorial discourse really maintain a critical distance from the solo show, given its such a catalyzing form? And to reject this history, Ribas says, is to exclude an important conversation about which solo exhibitions never existed–namely, “every female artist who was never invited to show.”


João Ribas’ bold and precise presentation designates the solo exhibition as a “repressed” consciousness of art history. He delivers a swift historiographic, rhetorical and affective narration on genealogies of solo exhibition practice, (we are immersed in the ingenious moves of Whistler, Gainsborough and Baudelaire). Ribas also brings attention to the intrinsic ties between “curatorial prestige” and group show formations.


Maybe a little too swift, he was talking so fast!