e-flux Conversations has been closed to new contributions and will remain online as an archive. Check out our new platform for short-form writing, e-flux Notes.

e-flux conversations

Bard conference on curatorial practice, Day 3 – Live coverage by Karen Archey

Akasegawa Genpei RIP (Feb 27, 1937 – Oct 26, 2014 – ∞)

1 Like

Thomas Boutoux

Thomas Boutoux of Paris-based alternative space, bookstore and publishing house castillo/corrales is up now. He’s giving a run down on “alternative spaces” throughout the world by mapping the similarities of their operational structures. For example, they prioritize hospitality, says Boutoux, are somewhat non-elitist, and oftentimes pay very close attention to the design and dispersal of media related to exhibitions. These institutions are not oppositional, but reflection on a new set of attitudes that are self-invented.

Boutoux brings up a very urgent point: There’s a violence in contemporary art practice today in terms of how careers are made and forgotten, especially in young artists. Changing the language and ethic of the contemporary art world was a founding impetus for castillo/corrales. To Boutoux, the future of curatorial practice to be nimble, and caring. I think this responds well to every institutional curator’s desire this weekend to make their institution more responsive. (At some point, I’d also like to talk about how coded the terms “project space,” “artist-run space,” and “alternative space” are.)

One of my favorite quotes from Boutoux, “It’s too much pressure to create a book and edit an exhibition at the same time. How can you do these two things at once? No wonder the books are never very good.”

A short list of the alternative institutions he mentions:
Artists Institute, New York
Praxes, Berlin
Yale Union, Portland
Lima Zulu, London
New Theater, Berlin
1857, Oslo
Pro-Choice, Vienna
Arcadia Missa, London
Kunsthalle Lissabon, Lisbon

Sarah Rifky is up next and the last speaker of the symposium!


Sarah Rifky

Sarah Rifky’s presentation was an apt conclusion to the symposium. She reflected on conventions of language and knowledge generation first through a (fictional?) character named Kolakolla (I know I spelled this wrong) and secondly those conventions expressed at Bard. How do we write, how do we speak, Rifky asks. “It’s a stage for the performance of knowledge,” says Rifky, “I learned more from the language and the form here more than the actual case studies. These tempos say something.” She talks about the value of unlearning, or jamming learning; writing with your left hand.

Paraphrasing from Rifky’s chapter on Kolakolla, “Is speaking more than one language a form of treason masked as knowledge? Speaking so many languages, it is impossible to think, she thinks. She has to unlearn her other glossal skills.”

Rifky ends her presentation by asking how institutions can learn from the instability of artworks.

Rifky’s abstract:

“Delusions of reference: From Language to Art / Chapter B: Lingo-in-pass”
This talk departs from Delusions of Reference: From Language to Art, to tackle its hypothetical Chapter B, which grapples with the question “what is an institution?” Lingo-in-pass takes a tangent to speak to art institutions and their futures through curatorial thinking and practice. Prior to asking about the future of art institutions, we must pose two questions: what is the future of art? And what is the future of language? The fundamental reality—and mistake possibly—is that we have taken language for granted. Language, the first institution on which all others are founded: the social contract, the economy,… The crashes, crises, and failings of these intricately interconnected political and economic conditions reverberate through the world affecting us all. The calling for revolution or autonomy in all fields of life is sound, yet not easily imagined. And even when it is imagined, our conscious minds are unable to ascend beyond familiar forms of governance. To re-imagine institutions we must reimagine language, its plurality, and that which is beyond language. What if we don’t share a common language, of speech and of practice? What if we insist on the untranslatability of certain things? What happens to the idioms of a field of research, study or practice—art history as a prime example—if they emerge from a different linguistic tradition? To think about how radically different it is to approach a work of art in Arabic than in English. Perhaps to go as far back as literacy and to remember that preceding the first imperative to “read” and “to write” is drawing.

Sarah Rifky is a writer and curator based in Cairo, where she co-founded Beirut, an art space that thinks about institution building as a curatorial act, since 2012. She is founder of CIRCA (Cairo International Resource Center for Art) and was Curator at Townhouse Gallery of Contemporary Art in Cairo 2009–2011. She was a Curatorial Agent of dOCUMENTA 13 in Kassel, Germany. In 2010 she was Adjunct Professor of Art History and Theory at the American University in Cairo and co-man- aged MASS Alexandria, an independent study program for young artists in Egypt, with artist Wael Shawky. Rifky is author of The Going Insurrection (2011) and Delusions of Reference: In Defense of Art (forthcoming). She is co-editor of the artist book Damascus: Tourists, Artists and Secret Agents (2009).


Tom Clark of Arcadia Missa asked a question to Thomas Boutoux about how to navigate the “class structure” of alternative/project/artist-run/etc. spaces and Boutoux responded by saying that he doesn’t really believe in acknowledging these sort of divides. I responded, agreeing with Tom, saying that (again) these words are very coded carry with them signifiers of importance and cultural capital. Sarah Rifky responded by saying that a space is only considered alternative from where you are standing–for example, her work with the Cairo-based space Beirut doesn’t feel secondary to say, museums in the area.

1 Like

Great quotes from Thomas B. and Sarah R. -thank you for the coverage!


Also pretty sure Kaspar König was only mentioned once this weekend! And I don’t think Harald Szeemann at all??? There were rumors about a Szeemann drinking game floating around Bard…


Szeemann mentioned twice.

1 Like

Love that Kunsthalle Lissabon was brought up–fantastic institution. I appreciated the slight Portuguese meme in the conference today.


Who mentioned Szeemann?

1 Like

An audience member asked Sarah Rifky to respond to Vivian Ziherl’s talk, and Rifky did so rather brazenly. Rifky thought that Ziherl’s call for solidarity had a lot of blind spots, and relayed how she learned so much about the so-called uprising in Cairo. She beautifully compared the experience to wanting to wear high heels as a child and having her parent refuse because she was too young, and then when she was old enough to wear them she realized how both painful the experience is and how sexy it can make you feel. (Ha!) Luckily, you can revert to wearing regular shoes. She relates this to a gap between imagination and lived experience, and how one’s imagination, and the desire to experience something (an uprising, wearing high heels, attend a Bard conference on the future of curating, etc.) can oftentimes overshadow what that experience actually might be like.


TIME TO SAY GOODBYE!!! Our live coverage is over as the conference has ended, but please do feel free to comment in the coming hours/days/months/years.

Thanks to Paul O’Neill and the Bard team for a great conference.


Great to hear that critique on HUO!! Its much needed !
Is HUO an Artist posing as Curator? “What once characterized the work of an artist, namely his style, his signature, and his name, is now true of the work of the curator. He must acquire as fast as possible an unmistakable, original, and innovate ‘handwriting’ if he is to position himself in the increasingly competitive curator market and thus to survive and attract attention (and that also means: as much money as possible) to himself.
We can go further and ask whether the curatorial subsystem, whose historical differentiation we are currently experiencing, has already sufficiently differentiated its public identity to allow us to speak of the curatorial identity of specific institutions, for example when we consider Thomas Kren’s globalised visions of the Guggenheim Museum. Everything that was, until recently, a typical strategy for the artist - namely, striving for an unmistakable and innovative style that attracts attention (and that means: money, too) is now relevant on the level of the curator. That means that typical strategies of artistic work have now shifted to a metalevel or been transformed (if one is inclined to view the curator, who stands between the institution and the artist, as a meta-level of artistic work in the institutional field).
The question is thus what these changes mean strategically for the artists. If everything an artist learned with great effort during his training, namely to be innovate and unmistakable, and to bring forth a unique style, is now suddenly appearing on the level above him, namely on the level of his curator friend, then the artist’s stylistic autonomy has been confiscated and he has slipped a rung lower. The ‘semantic ascent’ of the curator accompanies the ‘semantic descent’ of the artist and his work.”
Hans Dieter Huber

1 Like

Obrist is extremely outspoken that he is no artist. He respects artists way too much to dabble at being one. I don’t see the questions Koyo raised as a particularly productive critique or a sincere one, considering that Obrist basically works with artists that he works with out of genuine interest and not because of political or economic considerations. The other thing to keep in mind is that rather than attacking Obrist, it would be more productive to actually speak of curators who have dedicated their efforts to presenting other people and histories, for example Zdenka Badovinac, Maria Lind, and others. Its too easy to criticize someone for being well known and this sort of thing tends to completely ignore the work that led to the so called “fame.”

1 Like

Its great to be enlightened with the information on what HUO’s attitude towards Artist is.
Quoting Hans-Dieter Huber on this case was to facilitate re-thinking what roles the Curator (not only HUO) is increasingly embodying, and seemed interesting to be daring and a bit provoking around such Monster Curator.
To elude the fact that some one that HUO’s line of work is much like an author’s one (for more that he states his affiliation to the idea of Artist as separate of Curator and that he is not Artist) does not resolve the issue posed by HDH, which precisely includes the concept of replacement : The Curator taking the place of the Artist but as an structural social economic and semantic level. Formulated as done on previous post so bluntly sounds like negative nonsense, but exposed as mister Hans- Dieter Huber does, bares quite an interesting way to look at a reality now on to what can be simply putted as what he say here :“The ‘semantic ascent’ of the curator accompanies the ‘semantic descent’ of the artist and his work.”* I honestly think this is not to do with Fame achieved at any rate as it goes beyond that, this is why I find really accurate the use of the word: Semantic.
The idea of the Curator as Author suggested by very interesting folks is becoming increasingly ubiquitous.
This does not means that has to be a bad faith move by Curators.To me, just sounds as a fact and as a change of paradigm as a new mutant of relevance or use etc etc and find it great to have the possibility to exchange thoughts and doubts here or anywhere possible. Specially because as an Artist I had embarked since starting point on producing, editing ,running a place and using exhibition as medium too.
I like to add, that I got to know about Hans-Dieter Huber reading the fantastic text and editorial work by Paul O’Neill: The Culture of Curating and The Curating of Culture.

Here is the link in which I found such great material in case any one can be interested : http://www.hgb-leipzig.de/artnine/huber/writings/curators.html

1 Like

Semantic level is very abstract, and we should not let abstraction obscure specifics of concrete practices by lumping all sorts of people and work together, regardless of what they say or actually do. HUO, while an extremely innovative and a creative curator, has been very careful not to stray into the role of the artist. At the same time, Paul O’Neill used to describe himself as a “curatorial artist” - which is something much closer to what you are trying to critique. So you have to be more specific, not just linger in theoretical abstractions.

is not Semantic level, its the semantic ascendent value of the curator versus the semantic descendent value of the artist,there is nothing abstract about that statement.
Semantics equals meaning and as with some theory, or you agree or you don’t or you get it or you don’t.
I got perfectly well, what Hans-Dieter Huber meant.
I like to quote here Anton in 2010 which to me suggest that there was an awareness about the issue:

The necessity of going “beyond the making of exhibitions” should not become a justification for the work of curators to supersede the work of artists, nor a reinforcement of authorial claims that render artists and artworks merely actors and props for illustrating curatorial concepts. Movement in such a direction runs a serious risk of diminishing the space of art by undermining the agency of its producers: artists.

a bit later on the same text :

I suspect that it’s not coincidental that the rise of the “independent curator” has taken place alongside a pattern of increasing privatization over the past couple of decades in the cultural field. Curators and institutions of art, whose authority is in part derived from representing public interests and being responsible to the public, are increasingly becoming private agents guided largely by self-interest. For this reason they have begun to assume the appearance of something with authorial characteristics, while still retaining a certain claim to objectivity in their evaluation of art and in their obligation to public address.

and here I am adding a very recent text by Alexandra Molotkow on Nov 7 2014:

With the rise of conceptualism, which “dematerialized” art works, refining them down to ideas, the curator became an agent of the arcane, an alchemist type who could make something out of nothing. From there, the curator went on to become a star in his own right, at times eclipsing the work he turned his attention to; we watched the eyes move without following the sightlines. In a 2010 “video portrait” of Hans-Ulrich Obrist, one of the art world’s top curators, performance artist Marina Abramovic is shown “holding up a sign reading, THE CURATOR IS PRESENT/THE ARTIST IS ABSENT. She wears the clear-plastic-frame glasses that are Obrist’s trademark, as if to suggest that, for the duration of this video, she is he, or he has somehow possessed her.

I guess now I can leave you with a more definite, literal and visual opinion by Marina Abramanovich…

1 Like

That essay created a lot of enemies for Anton. A short time after his text was published, Bard started an online journal about various curatorial topics and immediately commissioned a set of 3 essays criticizing various aspects of Vidokle’s work, from e-flux to time/bank and other projects. So beware Venexiana…



Wow I really like your : Beware Venexiana… I will beware indeed ! will keep my eyes wide shot !

I think is a great honor to get the folks from Bard all stressed to reply, and deploy their 3 essays counter attacking Anton and e-flux and Time Bank etc etc …
For me, e-flux and Time Bank and this forum now, are Artist led instruments that have influenced and feed and catalyzed the discourses, production of ideas and dynamics of many interesting players on this mega Art-World to which we all relate in a way or another.

There is the Arab say about how one its measured by the size and importance of its enemies, so thumbs up for Anton then and the consciences and institutions that e-flux managed to shake.

1 Like