Excerpt from the Conversation
That seems to be a perspective that is gaining currency, especially among younger curators. I’d like to look at this more broadly by asking, how has your thinking about your work and the role of the curator changed since you first started in the field?
It seems that many people who are looking for progress in curatorial work no longer see the exhibition as a viable form for the display of art. I disagree and feel now more than ever the need to make exhibitions. I think that exhibition making can potentially reach far beyond the sphere of art and that is something I am investigating quite actively at the moment.
I have become ever less enamored of the concept of the curator as the protagonist of exhibitions, though I will concede that in a handful of cases one can, for better or worse, speak of a curatorial auteur. At his best and its best, Harry Szeemann personified that approach; at his worst and its worst, he did as well. It is much like what one can say of Joseph Beuys, who Szeemann so much admired, acting as the shamanistic protagonist of his work. But only a fool would try to create a hubristic persona like Beuys’s today, and only the most desperate of wannabes would attempt to play understudy to Szeemann. Naturally, there are quite a few of them around, and sadly some very talented curators who should know better have succumbed to the temptation for greater or lesser periods of time.
More generally, I look forward to a redefinition of the curatorial role that—paraphrasing Clement Greenberg’s definition of modernism and with as much polemical perversity as I can muster—consists, as I see it, in the use of the characteristic methods of a discipline to criticize the discipline itself, not in order to subvert it but in order to entrench it more firmly in its area of competence. Curatorial practice’s area of competence is, first and foremost, art. When curators lose sight of that fact, and of art itself—no matter how critical any particular body of work may be for one or another aesthetic tradition or even of the idea of art—they almost invariably end up doing art and the public a serious disservice. Too often they are amateurs in other fields who grant themselves full license to speculate and invent without having studied those fields in detail or even fully reconnoitering them, and they end up doing bad sociology, bad history, bad philosophy, bad psychology, and, above all, bad politics. Wide-ranging, unprejudiced, repeated, protracted, and in-depth looking constitutes the bare essentials of the curator’s craft. Before you can bring anything to another person’s attention, you must be able to see it and think it and re-see it and rethink it yourself.