Saturday, April 2, 2016

"Ways of Curating" by Hans Ulrich Obrist (Faber & Faber)

"Ways of Curating"  by Hans Ulrich Obrist (Faber & Faber)

The skill of curating is really putting two or more ideas together and placing it in a space.  Beyond that it can mean anything.  Generally speaking when we hear the word "curate" that means someone with a point-of-view, or subjective thoughts puts something together so we can explore that curator's thinking or world.  Well, at least, in theory.  Without a doubt one of the more interesting curators in contemporary art is Hans Ulrich Obrist.   I have never seen any of his exhibitions, but I do know him through his books and essays.  His best skill is that he has a basic curiosity in how an artist works and thinks.   He is also interested in places, cities, and locations where one can exhibit ideas or more likely art.  The curator is often just as creative as the artist.   Which is sometimes a good thing, and often not that good of a thing. 

Basically an artist makes a work, and if they are lucky it goes out to the world.  In a lot of cases, there is usually someone who takes that work and places it in a room with another work of art.   It can be a random act, but more likely the person (the curator) who does that is looking for themes or a feeling between the artworks.  At times, I find this misleading to the artist's intent, and on occurrences, it brings up new light or a way of looking at that art.  Especially if you know the artist and their work.   So, in a sense, the curator is sort of like a film editor working with a filmmaker.  

The great thing about Obrist is his interest in contemporary art and its past.  He also knows that literature, architecture and personality is also part of the big picture - in other words, everything has a place or importance, and therefore so does art.   The tricky aspect is how and when one place that work in a bigger picture or landscape.  "Ways of Curating" is very much Obrist's thinking in these matters as well as the history of curating, which is fascinating.  Modern curating (at least to Obrist) started in the 19th century in Paris.  At one time, paintings were hung salon style which is a lot of work on one wall. Monet and others started a practice where a painting stands by itself on a large wall, and therefore one concentrates on that one piece.   Salon style exhibition is fascinating, but for me, it's hard for me to focus on individual works, yet people in the 19th century used to see art in this fashion.  

"Ways of Curating" reads not like a book, but more of a collection of essays on the subject matter of curating.  For me, it would have been more fascinating if he just focused on its history, like he did in the first part of the book.  The second part is basically his career and what he has done, which is perfectly fine, but the writing gets kind of 'been there and done that' type of feeling.

Nevertheless, this is a very accessible book to someone who is curious about that world, but really doesn't know too much about the nature of art exhibitions, and how they are planned out..  Orbits has many books out, and the best one's are his interview books with various contemporary artists and composers.  He is an interesting guy, and "Ways of Curating" is both good and so-so, but still important of a subject matter to read. 

- Tosh Berman

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