New Zealand artist Harvey Benge had his friend and colleague Antoine D’Agata scribble “8 Ways to get your work out there”, on the back of an envelope. Follow these steps and nothing can go wrong anymore.
DIY residencies: a career in the arts on your own terms
At the same time, however, the fact that so many writers were clamouring for Amtrak to launch the programme underscored that formal residencies are often out of reach for many artists. They can be highly competitive and are often too lengthy or too far away to be affordable for the many artists who rely on day jobs to make ends meet.
It is not surprising then that more and more artists are taking matters into their own hands by organising do-it-yourself residencies. These pioneers are establishing new models for residencies by experimenting with alternative approaches to funding, space and time, while still creating an experience that allows them and other artists to break away from the daily grind in order to explore and develop ideas, collaborate and network with other artists, and make art. Some of the innovative ideas and solutions being tested include:
To avoid the huge financial outlay of owning a facility to host a residency, the Austin-based Rubber Repertory theatre used a co-op financial model to help cover the cost of the lease on a church space for their own long-term placement. It supplemented its costs by offering affordable short-term residencies ($50 for a week stay) to more than 80 artists from around the world over the course of a year.
Theatre company co-founder Josh Meyer recently told Fast Company that anyone could easily copy their model: “The artists don’t need a lot from us. What we’re really giving them is the time and the space. Anyone with a year to do this could probably start their own artist colony.”
Crowdfunding sites such as IndieGoGo, RocketHub, and Kickstarter are powerful new tools that artists can use to both fundraise for a residency program and to engage a broad base of project supporters. In fact, Rubber Repertory raised over $9,000 via crowdfunding campaign to cover a portion of rent and utilities on the church space it used for its residency.
The Indy Convergence, founded by a trio of artist entrepreneurs, including an actor, dancer and designer, has also successfully used crowdfunding to fund its pop-up residency – a two-week summer gathering of professional artists from across the US who collaborate on cross-disciplinary projects.
The 24-hour residency
One way to make costs more manageable is to significantly limit the length of the traditional residency experience. There are many examples of creative professionals from diverse disciplines who have come together to collaborate and create an original artwork within a restricted timeframe, such as 24 Hour Plays, the 48 Hour Film Project and twenty-four magazine.
By limiting their lengths, these projects make it easier for more artists with day jobs to participate and, more importantly, maximise the potency and creative energy of the artists’ time together. The accelerated creative process allows ideas to be explored and processed overnight, cultivates new creative relationships in real-time, and leaves participants with a renewed sense of motivation, self-confidence and purpose.
Detroit-based choreographer and dancer Kristi Faulkner worked out a deal to use under-utilised space at Michigan State University for her DIY residency. To cover the additional costs of a three-artist residency, she ran classes for the public to generate the needed funds. She invited two other collaborators from different disciplines – artists she wanted residency time to create new work with – which resulted in a larger audience for the classes by attracting people passionate about different artforms.
As a variation on the idea, artists could approach local schools or colleges, which are vacated during the summer, or a holiday resort or campsite, which tend to be under-used in the winter, and offer their artistic expertise as a service.
A month-long residency in a cabin in the woods with complete privacy to focus on creative work will never be accessible or feasible for most artists. Thankfully, more and more artists are reimagining the traditional residency for a new generation of independent artists who are building and sustaining careers in the arts on their own terms.
Repost from Guardian Culture Pros Network.
Photographer Tina Remiz recently interviewed her peers Rob Hornstra and Arnold van Bruggen – the duo behind The Sochi Project – for IdeasTap. This is a repost of the article, which gives great insight into their work (just in time for the Olympic Games) and into themes such as Crowdfunding, Collaborative work and documentary photography. Enjoy!
Rob Hornstra and Arnold van Bruggen on the Sochi Project
Since 2007, photographer Rob Hornstra and writer-filmmaker Arnold van Bruggen have colllaborated to document Sochi, Russia, where the 2014 Winter Olympic Games will be held. They talk to Tina Remiz about crowdfunding and working across different platforms…
How did The Sochi Project change over the years you worked on it?
Arnold van Bruggen: We originally intended it as an online project with a large publication at the end. When we launched a crowdfunding campaign to finance the work, we promised our donors an annual gift and, because we’re real book lovers, we decided to make a publication at the end of each year.
Rob Hornstra: The first annual publication – Sanatorium – was just a booklet, but in 2010 we produced a really comprehensive document about [the territory of] Abkhazia, which was received and reviewed by many as a book on its own. This made people take The Sochi Project more seriously.
Why did you decided to divide the project into smaller stories?
Rob: Early on in the project we realised that it could be divided into three regions, so each one became a separate chapter of the story. This model fits our way of working. We do slow investigative journalism, spending a long time on each story, which allows us to make separate publications for each chapter.
Why did you decide to crowdfund?
Arnold: We didn’t want to depend on arts grants or compromise the narrative to sell articles editorially, so crowdfunding seemed like a logical choice. We had a story with a clear deadline that involved the Olympic Games, a centuries-old conflict and the incredibly photogenic region of Abkhazia, so we were sure to have thousands of donors in the first year.
Rob: We believed there was a dedicated crowd, that understands this kind of story can’t be funded by the traditional media and is ready to pay for it directly. Probably we were a bit naïve.
Why did you decide to set up your own crowdfunding system instead of using platforms like Kickstarter and what did you learn from the experience?
Arnold: Back in 2009, crowdfunding wasn’t that popular; Kickstarter was just starting out and run by an invitation-only policy. Even now, the most successful crowdfunding campaigns are for short-term projects with clear goals, like “fund my book” or “pay for my trip”. We had a five-year-long project and would have to ask for around €300,000 at once, with no or little material to show.
Rob: One of the inspirations for our crowdfunding model was the Obama campaign, which was largely funded by very small – around $5 – donations. We set up a three-level donation model for €10, €100 and €1,000 and called them bronze, silver and gold respectively because of the Olympic Games reference. Our goal was to convince 1,000-2,000 people to donate €10 per year in exchange for some behind-the-scene stories – but that was a mistake. The crowdfunding system required a lot of administration, and we never had more than 300 bronze donors at a given time.
The biggest challenge was bridging the gab between people saying that they’d donate and actually doing it. This wasn’t because they didn’t want to fund the work, but because the step of giving €10 was too insignificant for them. On the other hand, silver and gold donors were very loyal to the project and infused it with substantial amounts of money.
What would you recommend to someone considering crowdfunding?
Rob: Keep it simple, set a clear goal and make your campaign a bit sexy to increase the audience.
Arnold: Know what you’re getting yourself into and be prepared to spend 50% of your time working on the project and 50% administrating the crowdfunding campaign.
Rob: On the bright side, by the time you finish the project, you have a dedicated audience enjoying and willing to promote your work.
The Sochi Project now exists in the form of a book, exhibition and website – what are the differences between each?
Rob: The storyline’s the same, but you get a different experience on each platform. We achieve this by separating the responsibilities: Arnold is in charge of the website, while I manage the exhibition and we bring the Kummer & Herrman design team on board when working on the books.
Arnold: We went through several versions of the website and settled on one that presents a tight edit and strictly linear narrative and allows us to control how you experience the story.
What advice would you give photographers and journalists planning to work on a long-term project?
Arnold: Be ambitious and look for opportunities to collaborate. Make complex stories and care not only about the content, but also its presentation
Rob: Focus on quality. There are too many people trying to do everything at the same time. Don’t underestimate what you can achieve either, just set out to make the best project ever.
Images: © Rob Hornstra / Flatland Gallery. From: An Atlas of War and Tourism in the Caucasus (Aperture, 2013).
This article was posted today by Madrid-based Valeria Saccone, just in time for tomorrow’s F.I.E.B.R.E. book fair. Using a similar model as the Parisian OFFPRINT, PhotoIreland’s Book and Magazine Fair, and the recently announced Photobook Bristol (organised by RRB Books), F.I.E.B.R.E. will feature local and international publishers – and self-publishers. Valeria quotes Martin Parr, who was recently in Madrid, for his annual workshop in the IED Madrid’s European Master of Fine Art Photography, and Horacio Fernandez, who will open his exhibition at the Reina Sofia, on recent Spanish photobooks next week (here is the Press Release as PDF, in Spanish). She also mentions some of the recent highlights, such as Ricardo Cases’ Palomas en el Aire, Cristina de Middel’s Afronauts, Carlos Spottorno’s PIGS and Oscar Monzón’s Karma, as well as Txema Salvans’ The Waiting Game, Antonio Xoubanova’s book on the Casa de Campo and Julian Barón’s CENSURA.
And there is more to come, such as the exhibition which Horacio Fernandez is preparing for PHotoEspaña 2014, on historic photobooks, or the visit of Kassel Photobook Festival’s Dummy Collection to the IED Madrid Photography Department this coming summer. Some speak of a bubble in the photobook market. For example, the Photobookclub Barcelona posted a critical article by Alex Sinclair on its Facebook page, and there was a vivid discussion on the subject. For photographers from Spain, however, the photobook seems to work, and there publication projects are highly recognized by critics and the public. Or, as Cristina de Middel has told me in an soon-to-be published interview for the next PhotoResearcher Magazine:
Is true that there have been suddenly many photobooks in Spain, but all seem to have their place in the market … they are totally relevant books, it’s not like “I’m going to do a book because it is fashionable to do the book.” They were made because the book-form it was the best solution for the particular work.
Enjoy Valeria’s article, in its original version hereafter, or in its automatic Google translation!
El fotolibro revive y los españoles tienen mucho que ver con ello
“The photobook is here to stay”. El fotolibro ha llegado para quedarse. Lo dice Martin Parr a su paso por Madrid, donde ha venido a presentar Los inconformistas, su libro número 65. Nada del otro mundo, comparado con los 12.000 volúmenes que guarda, religiosamente ordenados por países, en su casa de Bristol. “Hemos asistido a un retorno del fotolibro en la última década y eso continuará. Cada vez más personas están entusiasmadas con los fotolibros”, asegura Parr, que en su frase usa “revival”, una palabra que rezuma nostalgia.
El gurú del género no es el único que augura larga vida al fotolibro. Horacio Fernández, comisario y director de PhotoEspaña entre 2004 y 2006, se expresa con palabras idénticas.
“El fotolibro ha llegado para quedarse”, afirma desde una mesa del Café Comercial, un lugar histórico para las tertulias. “Deja-vu”, como diría Ralph Gibson. “Hoy asistimos a una búsqueda de público y de comunicación por parte de los fotógrafos. Antes solo había una vía comercial para mostrar las fotos: las revistas y la publicidad. Esta generación ha intentado hacer visible su trabajo de otra forma, con fotolibros, fanzines… Seguramente habrá una bajada, siempre hay subidas y bajadas en la montaña rusa del arte, como en los años 80 y 90, cuando casi no se producían fotolibros, y eso que se hacían cosas de mucha calidad”, matiza Horacio.
“Libros de fotografía se han hecho desde que la tecnología lo permitió. Lo que sucede ahora es que se les está dando más protagonismo y se están viendo las posibilidades de este medio”. Palabra de Eloi Gimeno, el diseñador que ha contribuido a crear Karma, de Óscar Monzón, considerado el mejor primer fotolibro del año en Paris Photo 2013. “El libro se quedará, pero posiblemente el interés de coleccionistas y de personas dispuestas a pagar grandes cantidades de dinero por libros nuevos acabará desapareciendo. Como en todo, el tiempo pone las cosas en su sitio”, añade Eloi.
El libro de Óscar Monzón ha sido coeditado por la francesa RVB y por Dalpine, una distribuidora de libros online que ha contribuido de forma decisiva a impulsar la cultura de los fotolibro en España. “Es una tendencia que ha ido afianzándose a lo largo de varios años. Los fotógrafos confían cada vez más en este formato para dar a conocer su trabajo y que este llegue a un público más amplio”, reflexionan los fundadores, José Manuel Suárez y Sonia Berger.
El interés por el fotolibro se extiende por Europa y los españoles se están llevando una buena tajada. Además de Karma, el libro de Carlos Spottorno, The Pigs, acaba de recibir el Photobook Award 2013 al mejor libro de fotografía del año en Kassel, Alemania.
Portada de The Pigs de Carlos Spottorno
“The Pigs es una obra con fuerte contenido político. No es un asunto ni personal ni poético. Yo utilizo todas las herramientas que mejor domino -la fotografía, el diseño y la comunicación de masas- para hacer activismo político, para analizar la deriva histórica de los núcleos de poder, la manipulación periodística y los estereotipos. Y por supuesto, para invitar a la autocrítica. Porque a pesar de todo, no todo es culpa de los demás”, explica Spottorno.
No es el primer año que los fotógrafos españoles llaman la atención de críticos y expertos internacionales. En 2012, también lo lograron Cristina de Middel y Julián Barón. Ambos quedaron finalistas en Paris Photo. The afronauts, que también fue nominado para la prestigiosa Deutsche Börse, se agotó en dos meses y sus ejemplares llegaron a costar 2.000 dólares en eBay, un ejemplo de la locura que puede llegar a desatar la autoedición bien empleada. Hoy el nombre de Cristina está muy cotizado. En 2012 llegó a hacer 25 exposiciones en toda Europa y periódicos como el New York Times y The Guardian han confiado en ella.
C.E.N.S.U.R.A., de Julián Barón, también se ha convertido en un libro de referencia internacional aunque su autor no canta victoria para la industria. “Es cierto, se puede decir que son buenas noticias. Pero es pronto para hacer balance, todavía queda mucho camino por recorrer”, asegura Barón.
Censura de Julián Barón
¿Estamos antes un momento dulce de la fotografía española? “Agridulce, diría yo. Es muy difícil trabajar en estas circunstancias, tanto para los propios fotógrafos como para los que estamos a su servicio, es decir los editores, diseñadores, comisarios, críticos… Por otro lado, es maravilloso ver que vale la pena y que hay tanto reconocimiento internacional para lo que se crea en este país”, señala Moritz Neumüller, responsable del Máster de Fotografía de Autor del IED.
“Donde yo vivo no hay demasiada dulzura. Todo es trabajo, trabajo, trabajo y pocos resultados satisfactorios a todos los niveles. En España se ha derrotado la cultura, la educación, lo social”, apunta Barón con cierto desconsuelo. “Si algo hay aquí es temperamento, cabezonería y capacidad de sacrificio. Es un topicazo, pero creo que se nota en el resultado de los proyectos de muchos fotógrafos españoles”, agrega Monzón. Es la visión desde dentro de los que no han parado de trabajar en la última década, “los eternos caminantes”, como algunos definen a los fotógrafos de Blank Paper, un colectivo que acaba de cumplir 10 años.
Entre ellos está Ricardo Cases, que con su Paloma al aire ha removido la fotografía española dentro y fuera de nuestro país. Su trabajo sobre el culto evangélico en los EE UU ha sido aclamado por Time LightBox.
Sin olvidar a Antonio Xoubanova, cuyo Casa de Campo ha sido publicado por Mack, la prestigiosa editorial británica. “Para mí ha sido una muy buena experiencia trabajar con un editor que ha hecho muchos de mis libros favoritos. He aprendido muchas cosas y le han dado muy buena visibilidad al trabajo. Es el mejor contexto que podía tener. Esto te anima a seguir trabajando”, señala Xoubanova.
Casa de Campo de Antonio M. Xoubanova
No son los únicos. El colectivo NoPhoto es otro ejemplo de “cabezonería”, por citar las palabras de Monzón. Sin embargo, el balance que hace uno de sus fundadores es más optimista. “Era mas fácil de lo que parecía, solo había que conseguir que los buenos fotógrafos que siempre ha habido se atrevieran a salir fuera a enseñar lo que estaban haciendo”. Así explica Juan Valbuena el reconocimiento internacional que por fin ha llegado a los autores españoles.
“Desde finales de los 90, hay circunstancias que han ayudado de un modo evidente y que han creado una pequeña red local en torno a la fotografía, formada por festivales, colectivos, instituciones, comisarios, galerías, editoriales, escuelas, librerías y consumidores. Para mí solo falta una buena revista de tirada nacional con un buen editor gráfico y un par de críticos. De ese modo, ya estaríamos todos y nos podríamos poner a crecer”, añade Valbuena, que este año ha lanzado Phree, una editorial “especializada en fotografía documental en primera persona”.
“Aquí está llegando ahora lo que en otros países empezó hace muchos años. En España ha habido un fuerte retraso cultural por el paternalismo de las instituciones. Pero hay otro elemento: si los españoles están triunfando es porque no han parado de trabajar en la última década”, alega Fosi Vegue, director de la escuela Blank Paper.
Txema Salvans, ganador del tercer Concurso Fotolibro Iberoamericano de la editorial mexicana RM con The waiting game, atribuye ese ‘descubrimiento’ de la fotografía española a varios factores: una nueva generación de fotógrafos jóvenes, que dominan la tecnología y son capaces de enviar fuera los trabajos; y el hecho de que la idea del proyecto como trabajo fotográfico se ha instaurado de una manera definitiva. Expertos receptivos y amantes del fotolibro, como Martin Parr, han hecho el resto. “Está claro que se está alimentando un caldo de cultivo y una forma de ver las imágenes totalmente nueva y eso provoca la creación de nuevos proyectos”, resume Fosi Vegue.
The Wainting Game de Txema Salvans
A todo esto se ha sumado el tema de la crisis en España. “Nos ha dado visibilidad en otros países, aunque no sea por lo que nos gustaría. Y ahora cuando ves un proyecto sobre España hecho por españoles, ya te interesa. Pero este es otro asunto. Por fin los españoles hemos empezado a fotografiar lo propio. Excepto Cristina García Rodero y unos pocos más, en general casi no había trabajos sobre el territorio. Y al final estos proyectos acaban teniendo mucha fuerza”, señala Salvans. “Lo que está triunfando es el libro español con mucho carácter y con un lenguaje propio, como los de Cristóbal Hara. Este es el país de Buñuel y de Ortega y Gasset: lo hemos mamado y ahora lo vomitamos”, analiza Vegue.
El resultado se refleja en una amplia producción de libros. “Cuando dirigí PhotoEspaña, era difícil encontrar a fotógrafos jóvenes con proyectos interesantes. Pero a partir de 2009, la cosa explota. El próximo 17 de diciembre inauguro una exposición de fotolibros en el Reina Sofía y muchos (y buenos) están hechos por españoles entre 2009 y 2013”, afirma Horacio Fernández. “Una vez más corroboro que las crisis son buenas para la creación”, bromea.
Su análisis mordaz va más allá: “Ahora seguramente tendremos una sobredosis de reconocimiento a esta generación. Veremos festivales dedicados a la fotografía española y a curadores rancios que intentarán apuntarse el mérito (esto lo puedes poner tal cual)”, asegura Horacio. Por supuesto, no se refiere a la exposición sobre fotografía española que se inauguró el 13 diciembre en Le Bal, en París. Un homenaje a Ricardo Cases, Antonio Xoubanova, Aleix Plademunt y Óscar Monzón.
“Lo que hay ahora mismo en España son fotógrafos y artistas con mucho talento, que han sabido encontrar imágenes que interesan al público. La clave está en las personas, en la calidad de sus miradas y en su capacidad de superar las dificultades. Es el caso de Ricardo Cases, Julián Barón, la gente de Nophoto… Es una generación brillante, que todavía tiene mucho que dar de sí y que seguramente formará a la siguiente generación”, señala Horacio. “Es una respuesta espontánea y desde abajo que perderá toda la fuerza e interés cuando se fagocite. Nos están comprando”, advierte Eloi Gimeno.
La palabra crisis se repite una y otra vez en el discurso de fotógrafos y comisarios. “Por un lado la crisis nos ha obligado a salir fuera de España para encontrar algo de reconocimiento y espacio de crecimiento, ya que España está en un momento muy delicado desde el punto de vista de la cultura. Eso no ha sido fácil para todo el mundo, porque cuando no se tiene trabajo ni dinero, es complicado participar en el juego internacional, que es caro y exigente”, señala Spottorno. “Por otro lado la crisis nos ha hecho detenernos a reflexionar. Hay mucha gente fotografiando este momento tan peculiar, lo que de alguna manera genera un ‘corpus’ que en algún momento deberá ser estudiado”, añade.
Karma de Óscar Monzón
Horacio Fernández cuenta que en Gran Bretaña el arte después del pop art tuvo una etapa ruinosa durante mucho tiempo, al igual que la literatura y el cine. Una tendencia que se rompió en la época de Thatcher, cuando hubo una explosión de creatividad.
“Otro ejemplo es Holanda, donde no se hace arte plástico de calidad desde hace mucho tiempo. Lo han matado las subvenciones. Todos los años los artistas tienen la obligación de entregar al Estado una obra de arte, que se acumulan porque nadie las quiere: ni siquiera los hospitales o las empresas como meros objetos decorativos. ¿Por qué? Porque son malas. Hoy cuesta trabajo nombrar a un solo artista holandés decente. El mundo de las subvenciones crea monitos amaestrados. Y las crisis eliminan estas figuras: gana el que resiste, el que tiene más cosas que decir”, asegura.
“Aunque siempre es delicado relacionar crisis y creatividad, lo cierto es que en muchos aspectos es directamente proporcional. La necesidad de opinar, de comunicar posiciones respecto a la situación social es más acuciante. Parece natural que se multipliquen las propuestas y que el contexto actual sea un escenario recurrente”, destaca Alejandro Castellote, curador independiente y director del Máster Latinoamericano de Fotografía en el Centro de la Imagen de Lima.
“La crisis y los despidos en medios de comunicación, periódicos en su mayoría, han provocado que fotógrafos que llevaban mucho tiempo experimentando con la fotografía en sus huecos libres, hayan podido dedicar todo su tiempo y energías a profundizar en la fotografía”, asegura Olmo González, fotógrafo y apasionado del género. Ejemplo de esto son Óscar Monzón y Antonio Xoubanova, que antes de trabajar por cuenta ajena estuvieron en El Mundo. “Un día me llamaron por teléfono y me dijeron que no iba a trabajar más, y eso fue todo. A la postre puedo decir que es el mayor favor que me han hecho nunca, porque gracias a esto he podido dedicar a mi proyecto el tiempo que necesitaba”, cuenta Óscar.
Pero ¿qué futuro le espera al fotolibro? Está claro que la autoedición ha contribuido a su crecimiento y difusión. Es un hecho que la mayoría de los libros que aparecen en las listas internacionales de lo mejor del año son autopublicados. ¿Es el camino lógico en está década?
Foto: Carlos Spottorno de su obra The Pigs
“Es una consecuencia de la informática. La facilidad de los programas de edición y de impresión simplifican la autoedición”, señala Horacio Fernández. “Los formalistas decían que las nuevas técnicas crean nuevas formas artísticas al cabo de un tiempo. Es un juguete muy bueno y es lógico que se produzcan libros derivados de estas técnicas. Luego habrá que limpiar. El tiempo se ocupará de eso y el propio artista también, comparando su libro con el de otros”.
Los fundadores del Photobook Club de Madrid, que organizan varias actividades mensuales para fomentar la cultura del fotolibro, creen que hay un exceso de autopublicaciones. “Es por falta de cómplices que asuman riesgos y faciliten el camino, que conozcan el medio, no solo la parte técnica, sino todos los procesos a posteriori: la distribución, la difusión y promoción del libro. Un síntoma de todo eso es el éxito reciente en los premios europeos de fotolibros hechos por fotógrafos, editores y diseñadores españoles. Estos libros son publicados, distribuidos y promocionados por editoriales de fuera de España o en coediciones, lo cual da cierta esperanza”.
Para Olmo González, es bastante probable que se conviertan en objetos de coleccionista, con tiradas cortas y caras. “Pero siempre habrá espacio para libros accesibles en cuanto a precio, y seguramente la tendencia sea hacerlos accesibles también en cuanto al contenido. Ahora mismo llaman la atención internacional libros de fotografía cuyo lenguaje queda bastante alejado de la población”, asegura.
Y aquí está el quid de la cuestión: la endogamia de un soporte que muchas veces no consigue salir del mismo círculo de siempre. “Hay libros hechos por fotógrafos para fotógrafos, comisarios, galerías o festivales”, advierte Fosi Vegue. “Cada vez pienso más que la fotografía debería ser un grito contra todo lo que está pasando en el mundo. Para mí el paradigma sigue siendo Oliviero Toscani con sus vallas publicitarias y su capacidad de comunicarse con todo el mundo. O como Ai Weiwei, aquel fotógrafo chino que usa la fotografía como arma política y se arriesga mucho”, añade.
Paloma al aire de Ricardo Cases
Salir de esa endogamia parece haberse convertido en una necesidad para algunas personas del medio, como Juan Valbuena. “Es lo que PHREE intenta con cada libro que hacemos. Por eso reivindicamos el papel de la fotografía documental en papel. Creemos que la foto que maneja como referente una realidad tiene códigos compartidos con más personas y, por tanto, puede comunicar mejor y ser más relevante”.
Julián Barón también cree que es importante trabajar en este sentido. “Lo hago todos los días, sin descanso. Una de las estrategias para que nuestra visión del mundo a través de la imagen llegue a mas público es la educación y que no existan trabas para el acceso a la cultura. Sin educación estamos muertos”, apunta. “Tendría que haber una gran enciclopedia y libros de fotografía en todos los colegios y las bibliotecas. Porque a veces llega más una foto que muchas páginas de libros de historia”, añade Fosi Vegue.
El éxito de un fotolibro no depende tanto de las ventas, sino de la intención con la que se crea la obra. “Por ejemplo, si yo hago un libro con fotos de la boda de mi hermano, lo considero un éxito si le gusta a los novios y sería un exitazo si le gusta a toda la familia. Si, en cambio, lo que se persigue es hacer un superventas, habría que utilizar un lenguaje más asequible y no quejarse de que la gente no te entiende”, señala el Photobook Club Madrid.
Hay quien cree que una feria del fotolibro ayudaría a afianzar este género, una carencia que FIEBRE, organizada por la escuela Blank Paper, intenta suplir. Otros, como Valbuena, vislumbran “un futuro híbrido, con productos en papel que tengan continuidad en pantallas, tipo web asociadas con información ampliada, y al revés”. Y por qué no, un fotolibro digital que dialogue e interactúe con las tabletas. “Ya hay algunos artistas que utilizan códigos QR para que puedas escuchar una entrevista mientras miras el libro. Pero los QR son muy feos y tecnológicamente obsoletos. Serán sustituidos por otros códigos mas inteligentes”, prevé Moritz Neumüller.
“Me gusta pensar que en un futuro será posible hacer tiradas de 10.000 ejemplares. Esto bajaría los costes de producción y los precios”, señala Xoubanova. Hoy las tiradas de los fotolibros van desde los 100 ejemplares a los 4.000, en el mejor de los casos. Del libro de Salvans se han hecho 2.000 ejemplares. “¿Tú te imaginas 2.000 ejemplares en un cómic, en un libro de niños, en literatura? Sería un negocio ruinoso”, dice el autor, que acepta que no todo el mundo puede conectar con este lenguaje.
“Nosotros de alguna manera somos frikis en eso de la fotografía. La porción de personas que se interesan por nuestro trabajo aún es muy pequeña (…) Pero yo no me siento solo en este mundo, ni necesito a más gente a mi alrededor. Nunca he estado tan bien como ahora. Estamos en el mejor de los momentos”, añade Salvans.
¿Entonces podemos jubilar el concepto de foto única y de instante decisivo? “Hoy las fotos tienen más sentido como series. Eso ayuda a solucionar el problema clásico de la fotografía con el tiempo, porque una foto solo muestra un instante congelado. El cine superó este escollo a la perfección, con la sucesión de imágenes y un discurso. Los fotolibros son hoy lo que en su día fue el cine”, concluye Horacio Fernández.
In this excerpt from his now-famous lecture, John Cleese offers a recipe for creativity, delivered with his signature blend of cultural insight and comedic genius. Specifically, Cleese outlines “the 5 factors that you can arrange to make your lives more creative”.
The Fine Art of Being a Curator
Repost from an article in the NYT by RANDY KENNEDY. Published: July 18, 2012
Over the last decade, as the contemporary art world has grown to planetary size — more galleries, more fairs, more art-selling Web sites, bigger museums, new biennials almost by the month — it has sometimes seemed as if a new kind of cultural figure has been born as well: the international curator, constantly in flight to somewhere.
The phenomenon is not wholly new. Roaming European curators like Harald Szeemann and Germano Celant set the terms in the 1960s. But the art world’s transformation has transformed the curatorial field, and this week you needed go no further than a few places in Manhattan to sample its increasingly global sweep. One afternoon in a meeting room near Madison Square Park a young Australian curator who specializes in aboriginal art was sitting next to a Yale-trained painter-art-professor-curator from Tennessee, who sat across a table from fellow curators from London, Beijing, Mexico City, Madrid (by way of Brazil) and Berlin (though working in Albania). In previous months curators from 20 other countries, many of them far from contemporary art’s beaten paths — Sri Lanka, Latvia, Nigeria, Bulgaria — had been in the city for the same reason.
Each of the curators had paid $1,900 — and in some cases more, for airfare and lodging — to come to New York for a 10-day training and networking program recently established by Independent Curators International, which has been known through most of its three decades for helping turn curators’ ideas into traveling exhibitions that are rented by established museums.
But over the last three years this nonprofit organization, based in modest offices overlooking lower Broadway, has reinvented itself, and its profile has begun to rise along with the profile of the profession.
While not exactly lucrative — the most recent snapshot by the Bureau of Labor Statistics puts the estimated mean salary of a curator, broadly defined, in the United States at $53,540 — the profession has grown rapidly in cachet. The word itself has seeped into the language, a little too deeply. (“Curate your Facebook profile like you curate your life,” a social media blog counseled recently.) And while the term “independent curator” is misleading — curators are usually attached to institutions or programs, if only temporarily — the example of itinerant curators who have become art-world celebrities in recent years, like Okwui Enwezor, Hans-Ulrich Obrist and Neville Wakefield, has had an effect.
“This whole phenomenon is really a post-millennium thing,” said Kate Fowle, a longtime British curator who took over as the executive director of Independent Curators in 2009 after working for a year as the curator of a new art center in Beijing. “It’s a profession growing at a very, very fast rate.”
Although precise numbers are hard to come by, Ms. Fowle said that an indication of the field’s size worldwide was that in the two and a half years since her organization started a training program in 2010, 672 applicants from more than 62 countries — “many more than we ever expected,” she said — have vied for what has turned out to be about 150 spots in the program, chosen by a jury. Two sessions are held each year in New York, each with room for only about 14 participants. And the popularity of the program quickly led Independent Curators to begin collaborations with other groups to start parallel training sessions elsewhere: in Philadelphia, Mumbai, Beijing and southeast Brazil, at the privately financed contemporary art complex known as Inhotim.
In New York this week the latest participants, ranging in age from early 20s to early 50s, spent time with some of the most prominent professionals of the city’s museums and nonprofit spaces: Nancy Spector, the chief curator at the Guggenheim; Scott Rothkopf, from the Whitney; Laura Hoptman from the Museum of Modern Art; Matthew Higgs from White Columns. The subjects and discussions — from the aesthetic subtleties of plinths and sandpaper tape to ideas about organizing exhibitions against one’s own taste — were as expansive and amorphous as the job description.
Ms. Spector spoke about the difficulties of “grappling with the authority” of the Guggenheim’s architecture (“I sometimes think that I can’t install in a square room anymore”), but also, more extensively, about the dangers of the “helicopter model of international curating,” which too often leads to superficial understanding of cultures and their art — and to bad shows, she said.
Mr. Rothkopf, who was headed to another curators’ conference in Boston the next day, extolled the virtues — those he joked might seem almost “neocon” in an accelerating art world — of working closely with museum collections and with artists over long periods of time to create exhibitions “that shape an argument.”
“I want to have some voice as a curator,” he said, “not just as a kind of movie producer.”
An unofficial theme of the gathering was a desire among many curators to find ways to to define themselves against the juggernaut of the commercial art world while still being able to pay the bills.
“It’s very hard for people doing this in China to find the right kind of place, that doesn’t feel like just a part of the market,” said Su Wei, an independent critic and curator from Beijing. Meaghan Kent, who worked for Chelsea galleries for many years and recently started a nonprofit program, site95, that organizes shows in temporary urban spaces, said that many curators she knows are as creative about their livelihoods as they are in their work with art and artists.
“There are a lot of people out there who are artist-curator-bartender-whatevers, and they just put it all together to make it work,” she said. “They want to be able to have the freedom to make things up as they go.”
Emilia Galatis, a curator from Perth, Australia, who spent part of last year in the desert meeting aboriginal artists, said that visiting New York and talking to curators from around the world underscored for her how far off the radar of contemporary art aboriginal art remains, and how narrow the focus of the curatorial field can be despite its size.
“It’s really hard even to talk precisely about global curating when the world is still so diverse,” she said.
But Mr. Su said that the more he traveled as a curator, the less diverse the art world was coming to seem. “I was at another curators conference just before I came here, in Guangzhou, and all the things we were discussing there weren’t much different from what we’re discussing here today.”
Reposted from http://www.nytimes.com/2012/07/19/arts/design/as-the-art-world-grows-so-does-the-curators-field.html?_r=2&ref=design
A version of this article appeared in print on July 19, 2012, on page C1 of the New York edition with the headline: The Fine Art Of Being A Curator.
This is a repost of an article by David Levi Strauss, for the Brooklyn Rail. It was published in December 2006, but has not lost its relevance, I believe. The interviews by Hans Ulrich Obrist mentioned in the text have been reprinted in his book A Brief History of Curating, by the way.
The Bias of the World: Curating After Szeemann & Hopps
by David Levi Strauss
What Is a Curator?
Under the Roman Empire the title of curator (“caretaker”) was given to officials in charge of various departments of public works: sanitation, transportation, policing. The curatores annonae were in charge of the public supplies of oil and corn. The curatores regionum were responsible for maintaining order in the 14 regions of Rome. And the curatores aquarum took care of the aqueducts. In the Middle Ages, the role of the curator shifted to the ecclesiastical, as clergy having a spiritual cure or charge. So one could say that the split within curating—between the management and control of public works (law) and the cure of souls (faith)—was there from the beginning. Curators have always been a curious mixture of bureaucrat and priest.
That smooth-faced gentleman, tickling Commodity, Commodity, the bias of the world— —Shakespeare, King John1
For better or worse, curators of contemporary art have become, especially in the last 10 years, the principal representatives of some of our most persistent questions and confusions about the social role of art. Is art a force for change and renewal, or is it a commodity for advantage or convenience? Is art a radical activity, undermining social conventions, or is it a diverting entertainment for the wealthy? Are artists the antennae of the human race, or are they spoiled children with delusions of grandeur (in Roman law, a curator could also be the appointed caretaker or guardian of a minor or lunatic)? Are art exhibitions “spiritual undertakings with the power to conjure alternative ways of organizing society,”2 or vehicles for cultural tourism and nationalistic propaganda?
These splits, which reflect larger tears in the social fabric, certainly in the United States, complicate the changing role of curators of contemporary art, because curators mediate between art and its publics and are often forced to take “a curving and indirect course” between them. Teaching for the past five years at the Center for Curatorial Studies at Bard College, I observed young curators confronting the practical demands and limitations of their profession armed with a vision of possibility and an image of the curator as a free agent, capable of almost anything. Where did this image come from?
When Harald Szeemann and Walter Hopps died in February and March 2005, at age 72 and 71, respectively, it was impossible not to see this as the end of an era. They were two of the principal architects of the present approach to curating contemporary art, working over 50 years to transform the practice. When young curators imagine what’s possible, they are imagining (whether they know it or not) some version of Szeemann and Hopps. The trouble with taking these two as models of curatorial possibility is that both of them were sui generis: renegades who managed, through sheer force of will, extraordinary ability, brilliance, luck, and hard work, to make themselves indispensable, and thereby intermittently palatable, to the conservative institutions of the art world.
Each came to these institutions early. When Szeemann was named head of the Kunsthalle Bern in 1961, at age 28, he was the youngest ever to have been appointed to such a position in Europe, and when Hopps was made director of the Pasadena Art Museum (now the Norton Simon Museum) in 1964, at age 31, he was then the youngest art museum director in the United States. By that time, Hopps (who never earned a college degree) had already mounted a show of paintings by Mark Rothko, Clyfford Still, Richard Diebenkorn, Jay DeFeo, and many others on a merry-go-round in an amusement park on the Santa Monica Pier (with his first wife, Shirley Hopps, when he was 22); started and run two galleries (Syndell Studios and the seminal Ferus Gallery, with Ed Kienholz); and curated the first museum shows of Frank Stella’s paintings and Joseph Cornell’s boxes, the first U.S. retrospective of Kurt Schwitters, the first museum exhibition of Pop Art, and the first solo museum exhibition of Marcel Duchamp, in Pasadena in 1963. And that was just the beginning. Near the end of his life, Hopps estimated that he’d organized 250 exhibitions in his 50-year career.
Szeemann’s early curatorial activities were no less prodigious. He made his first exhibition, Painters Poets/ Poets Painters, a tribute to Hugo Ball, in 1957, at age 24. When he became the director of the Kunsthalle in Bern four years later, he completely transformed that institution, mounting nearly 12 exhibitions a year, culminating in the landmark show Live In Your Head: When Attitudes Become Form, in 1969, exhibiting works by 70 artists, including Joseph Beuys, Richard Serra, Eva Hesse, Lawrence Weiner, Richard Long, and Bruce Nauman, among many others.
While producing critically acclaimed and historically important exhibitions, both Hopps and Szeemann quickly came into conflict with their respective institutions. After four years at the Pasadena Art Museum, Hopps was asked to resign. He was named director of the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. in 1970, then fired two years later. For his part, stunned by the negative reaction to When Attitudes Become Form from the Kunsthalle Bern, Harald Szeemann quit his job, becoming the first “independent curator.” He set up the Agency for Spiritual Guestwork and co-founded the International Association of Curators of Contemporary Art (IKT) in 1969, curated Happenings & Fluxus at the Kunstverein in Cologne in 1970, and became the first artistic director of Documenta in 1972, reconceiving it as a 100-day event. Szeemann and Hopps hadn’t yet turned 40, and their best shows were all ahead of them. For Szeemann, these included Junggesellenmaschinen—Les Machines célibataires (“Bachelor Machines”) in 1975-77, Monte Veritá (1978, 1983, 1987), the first Aperto at the Venice Biennale (with Achille Bonito Oliva, 1980), Der Hang Zum Gesamtkunstwerk, Europaïsche Utopien seit 1800 (“The Quest for the Total Work of Art”) in 1983-84, Visionary Switzerland in 1991, the Joseph Beuys retrospective at the Centre Pompidou in 1993, Austria in a Lacework of Roses in 1996, and the Venice Biennale in 1999 and 2001. For Hopps, yet to come were exhibitions of Diane Arbus in the American pavilion at the Venice Biennale in 1972, the Robert Rauschenberg mid-career survey in 1976, retrospectives at the Menil Collection of Yves Klein, John Chamberlain, Andy Warhol, and Max Ernst, and exhibitions of Jay DeFeo (1990), Ed Kienholz (1996 at the Whitney), Rauschenberg again (1998), and James Rosenquist (2003 at the Guggenheim). Both Szeemann and Hopps had exhibitions open when they died—Szeemann’s Visionary Belgium, for the Palais des Beaux-Arts in Brussels, and Hopps’s George Herms retrospective at the Santa Monica Museum—and both had plans for many more exhibitions in the future.
What Do Curators Do?
Szeemann and Hopps were the Cosmas and Damian (or the Beuys and Duchamp) of contemporary curatorial practice. Rather than accepting things as they found them, they changed the way things were done. But finally, they will be remembered for only one thing: the quality of the exhibitions they made; for that is what curators do, after all. Szeemann often said he preferred the simple title of Ausstellungsmacher (exhibition-maker), but he acknowledged at the same time how many different functions this one job comprised: “administrator, amateur, author of introductions, librarian, manager and accountant, animator, conservator, financier, and diplomat.” I have heard curators characterized at different times as:
Bricoleurs (Hopps’ last show, the Herms retrospective, was titled “The Bricoleur of Broken Dreams. . . One More Once”)
Cartographers (Ivo Mesquita)
Catalysts (Hans Ulrich Obrist)
Diplomats (When Bill Lieberman, who held top curatorial posts at both the Museum of Modern Art and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, died in May 2005, Artnews described him as “the consummate art diplomat”)
And that’s just the beginning of the alphabet. When Hans Ulrich Obrist asked Walter Hopps to name important predecessors, the first one he came up with was Willem Mengelberg, the conductor of the New York Philharmonic, “for his unrelenting rigor.” He continued, “Fine curating of an artist’s work—that is, presenting it in an exhibition—requires as broad and sensitive an understanding of an artist’s work that a curator can possibly muster. This knowledge needs to go well beyond what is actually put in the exhibition. . . . To me, a body of work by a given artist has an inherent kind of score that you try to relate to or understand. It puts you in a certain psychological state. I always tried to get as peaceful and calm as possible.”3
But around this calm and peaceful center raged the “controlled chaos” of exhibition making. Hopps’ real skills included an encyclopedic visual memory, the ability to place artworks on the wall and in a room in a way that made them sing,4 the personal charm to get people to do things for him, and an extraordinary ability to look at a work of art and then account for his experience of it, and articulate this account to others in a compelling and convincing way.
It is significant, I think, that neither Szeemann nor Hopps considered himself a writer, but both recognized and valued good writing, and solicited and “curated” writers and critics as well as artists into their exhibitions and publications. Even so, many have observed that the rise of the independent curator has occurred at the expense of the independent critic. In a recent article titled “Do Art Critics Still Matter?” Mark Spiegler opined that “on the day in 1969 when Harald Szeemann went freelance by leaving the Kunsthalle Bern, the wind turned against criticism.”5 There are curators who can also write criticism, but these precious few are exceptions that prove the rule. Curators are not specialists, but for some reason they feel the need to use a specialized language, appropriated from philosophy or psychoanalysis, which too often obscures rather than reveals their sources and ideas. The result is not criticism, but curatorial rhetoric. Criticism involves making finer and finer distinctions among like things, while the inflationary writing of curatorial rhetoric is used to obscure fine distinctions with vague generalities. The latter’s displacement of the former has a political dimension as we move into an increasingly managed, post-critical environment.
Although Szeemann and Hopps were very different in many ways, they shared certain fundamental values: an understanding of the importance of remaining independent of institutional prejudices and arbitrary power arrangements; a keen sense of history; the willingness to continually take risks intellectually, aesthetically, and conceptually; and an inexhaustible curiosity about and respect for the way artists work.
Szeemann’s break away from the institution of the Kunsthalle was, simply put, “a rebellion aimed at having more freedom.”6 This rebellious act put him closer to the ethos of artists and writers, where authority cannot be bestowed or taken, but must be earned through the quality of one’s work. In his collaborations with artists, power relations were negotiated in practice rather than asserted as fiat. Every mature artist I know has a favorite horror story about a young, inexperienced curator trying to claim an authority they haven’t earned by manipulating a seasoned artist’s work or by designing exhibitions in which individual artists’ works are seen as secondary and subservient to the curator’s grand plan or theme. The cure for this kind of insecure hubris is experience, but also the recognition of the ultimate contingency of the curatorial process. As Dave Hickey said of both critics and curators, “Somebody has to do something before we can do anything.”7 In June of 2000, after being at the pinnacle of curatorial power repeatedly for over 40 years, Harald Szeemann said, “Frankly, if you insist on power, then you keep going on in this way. But you must throw the power away after each experience, otherwise it’s not renewing. I’ve done a lot of shows, but if the next one is not an adventure, it’s not important for me and I refuse to do it.”8
When contemporary curators, following in the steps of Szeemann, break free from institutions, they sometimes lose their sense of history in the process. Whatever their shortcomings, institutions do have a sense (sometimes a surfeit) of history. And without history, “the new” becomes a trap, a sequential recapitulation of past approaches with no forward movement. It is a terrible thing to be perpetually stuck in the present, and this is a major occupational hazard for curators.
Speaking about his curating of the Seville Biennale in 2004, Szeemann said, “It’s not about presenting the best there is, but about discovering where the unpredictable path of art will go in the immanent future.” But moving the ball up the field requires a tremendous amount of legwork. “The unpredictable path of art” becomes much less so when curators rely on the Claude Rains method, rounding up the usual suspects from the same well-worn list of artists that everyone else in the world is using.
It is difficult, in retrospect, to fully appreciate the risks that both Szeemann and Hopps took to change the way curators worked. One should never underestimate the value of a monthly paycheck. By giving up a secure position as director of a stable art institution and striking out on his own as an “independent curator,” Szeemann was assuring himself years of penury. There was certainly no assurance that anyone would hire him as a freelance. Anyone who’s chosen this path knows that freelance means never having to say you’re solvent. Being freelance as a writer and critic is one thing: The tools of the trade are relatively inexpensive, and one need only make a living. But making exhibitions is costly and finding “independent” money, money without onerous strings attached to it, is especially difficult when one cannot, in good conscience, present it as an “investment opportunity.” Daniel Birnbaum points out that “all the dilemmas of corporate sponsorship and branding in contemporary art today are fully articulated in [‘When Attitudes Become Form’]. Remarkably, according to Szeemann, the exhibition came about only because ‘people from Philip Morris and the PR firm Ruder Finn came to Bern and asked me if I would do a show of my own. They offered me money and total freedom.’ Indeed, the exhibition’s catalogue seems uncanny in its prescience: ‘As businessmen in tune with our times, we at Philip Morris are committed to support the experimental,’ writes John A. Murphy, the company’s European president, asserting that his company experimented with ‘new methods and materials’ in a way fully comparable to the Conceptual artists in the exhibition. (And yet, showing the other side of this corporate-funding equation, it was a while before the company supported the arts in Europe again, perhaps needing time to recover from all the negative press surrounding the event.)”9 So the founding act of “independent curating” was brought to you by . . . Philip Morris! 33 years later, for the Swiss national exhibition Expo.02, Szeemann designed a pavilion covered with sheets of gold, containing a system of pneumatic tubes and a machine that destroyed money—two 100 franc notes every minute during the 159 days of the exhibition. The sponsor? The Swiss National Bank, of course.
When Walter Hopps brought the avant-garde to Southern California, he didn’t have to compete with others to secure the works of Mark Rothko, Clyfford Still, or Jay DeFeo (for the merry-go-round show in 1953), because no one else wanted them. In his Hopps obituary, Los Angeles Times critic Christopher Knight pointed out that “just a few years after Hopps’s first visit to the [Arensbergs’] collection, the [Los Angeles] City Council decreed that Modern art was Communist propaganda and banned its public display.”10 In 50 years, we’ve progressed from banning art as Communist propaganda to prosecuting artists as terrorists.11
The Few and Far Between
It’s not that fast horses are rare, but men who know enough to spot them are few and far between. —Han Yü12
The trait that Szeemann and Hopps had most in common was their respect for and understanding of artists. They never lost sight of the fact that their principal job was to take what they found in artists’ works and do whatever it took to present it in the strongest possible way to an interested public. Sometimes this meant combining it with other work that enhanced or extended it. This was done not to show the artists anything they didn’t already know, but to show the public. As Lawrence Weiner pointed out in an interview in 1994, “Everybody that was in the Attitudes show knew all about the work of everybody else in the Attitudes show. They wouldn’t have known them personally, but they knew all the work. . . . Most artists on both sides of the Atlantic knew what was being done. European artists had been coming to New York and U.S. artists went over there.”13 But Attitudes brought it all together in a way that made a difference.
Both Szeemann and Hopps felt most at home with artists, sometimes literally. Carolee Schneemann recently described for me the scene in the Kunstverein in Cologne in 1970, when she and her collaborator in “Happenings and Fluxus” (having arrived and discovered there was no money for lodging) moved into their installations, and Szeemann thought it such a good idea to sleep on site that he brought in a cot and slept in the museum himself, to the outrage of the guards and staff. Both Szeemann and Hopps reserved their harshest criticism for the various bureaucracies that got between them and the artists. Hopps once described working for bureaucrats when he was a senior curator at the National Collection of Fine Arts as “like moving through an atmosphere of Seconal.”14 And Szeemann said in 2001 that “the annoying thing about such bureaucratic organizations as the [Venice] Biennale is that there are a lot of people running around who hate artists because they keep running around wanting to change everything.”15 Changing everything, for Szeemann, was just the point. “Artists, like curators, work on their own,” he said in 2000, “grappling with their attempt to make a world in which to survive. . . . We are lonely people, faced with superficial politicians, with donors, sponsors, and one must deal with all of this. I think it is here where the artist finds a way to form his own world and live his obsessions. For me, this is the real society.”16 The society of the obsessed.
Where Do We Go from Here?
Although Walter Hopps was an early commissioner for the São Paolo Biennal (1965: Barnett Newman, Frank Stella, Richard Irwin and Larry Poons) and of the Venice Biennale (1972: Diane Arbus), Harald Szeemann practically invented the role of nomadic independent curator of huge international shows, putting his indelible stamp on Documenta and Venice and organizing the Lyon Biennale and the Kwangju Biennial in Korea in 1997, and the first Seville Biennale in 2004, as well as numerous other international surveys around the world.
So what Szeemann said about globalization and art should perhaps be taken seriously. He saw globalization as a euphemism for imperialism, and proclaimed that “globalization is the great enemy of art.” And in the Carolee Thea interview in 2000, he said, “Globalization is perfect if it brings more justice and equality to the world . . . but it doesn’t. Artists dream of using computers or digital means to have contact and to bring continents closer. But once you have the information, it’s up to you what to do with it. Globalization without roots is meaningless in art.”17 And globalization of the curatorial class can be a way to avoid or “transcend” the political.
Rene Dubos’s old directive to “think globally, but act locally” (first given at the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment in 1972) has been upended in some recent international shows (like the 14th Sydney Biennale in 2004, and the 1st Moscow Biennial in 2005). When one thinks locally (within a primarily Euro-American cultural framework, or within a New York-London-Kassel-Venice-Basel-Los Angeles-Miami framework) but acts globally, the results are bound to be problematic, and can be disastrous. In 1979, Dubos argued for an ecologically sustainable world in which “natural and social units maintain or recapture their identity, yet interplay with each other through a rich system of communications.” At their best, the big international exhibitions do contribute to this. Okwui Enwezor’s18 Documenta XI certainly did, and Szeemann knew it. At their worst, they perpetuate the center-to-periphery hegemony and preclude real cross-cultural communication and change. Although having artists and writers move around in the world is an obvious good, real cultural exchange is something that must be nurtured. Walter Hopps said in 1996: “I really believe in—and, obviously, hope for—radical, or arbitrary, presentations, where cross-cultural and cross-temporal considerations are extreme, out of all the artifacts we have. . . . So just in terms of people’s priorities, conventional hierarchies begin to shift some.”19
The Silence of Szeemann & Hopps Is Overrated
‘Art’ is any human activity that aims at producing improbable situations, and it is the more artful (artistic) the less probable the situation that it produces. —Vilém Flusser20
Harald Szeemann recognized early and long appreciated the utopian aspects of art. “The often-evoked ‘autonomy’ is just as much a fruit of subjective evaluation as the ideal society: it remains a utopia while it informs the desire to experientially visualize the unio mystica of opposites in space. Which is to say that without seeing, there is nothing visionary, but that the visionary should always determine the seeing.” And he recognized that the bureaucrat could overtake the curer of souls at any point. “Otherwise, we might just as well return to ‘hanging and placing,’ and divide the entire process ‘from the vision to the nail’ into detailed little tasks again.”21 He organized exhibitions in which the improbable could occur, and was willing to risk the impossible. In reply to a charge that the social utopianism of Joseph Beuys was never realized, Szeemann said, “The nice thing about utopias is precisely that they fail. For me, failure is a poetic dimension of art.”22 Curating a show in which nothing could fail was, to Szeemann, a waste of time.
If he and Hopps could still encourage young curators in anything, I suspect it would be to take greater risks in their work. At a time when all parts of the social and political spheres (including art institutions) are increasingly managed, breaking out of this frame, asking significant questions, and setting the terms of resistance is more and more vitally important. It is important to work against the bias of the world (commodity, political expediency). For curators of contemporary art, that means finding and supporting those artists who, as Flusser writes, “have attempted, at the risk of their lives, to utter that which is unutterable, to render audible that which is ineffable, to render visible that which is hidden.”23
This essay will be included in the forthcoming Cautionary Tales: Critical Curating Edited by Steven Rand and Heather Kouris, published by Apex Art. It will be available by January 2007.
1 Shakespeare, The Life and Death of King John, Act II, Scene 1, 573-74. Cowper: “What Shakespeare calls commodity, and we call political expediency.” Appendix 13 of my old edition of Shakespeare’s Complete Works, edited by G. B. Harrison (NY: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1968), pp. 1639-40, reads: “Shakespeare frequently used poetic imagery taken from the game of bowls [bowling]. . . . The bowl [bowling ball] was not a perfect sphere, but so made that one side somewhat protruded. This protrusion was called the bias; it caused the bowl to take a curving and indirect course.”
2 “When Attitude Becomes Form: Daniel Birnbaum on Harald Szeemann,” Artforum, Summer 2005, p. 55.
3 Hans Ulrich Obrist, Interviews, Volume I, edited by Thomas Boutoux (Milan: Edizioni Charta, 2003), pp. 416-17. Hopps also named as predecessors exhibition-makers Katherine Dreier, Alfred Barr, James Johnson Sweeney, René d’Harnoncourt, and Jermayne MacAgy.
4 In 1976, at the Museum of Temporary Art in Washington, D.C., Hopps announced that, for thirty-six hours, he would hang anything anyone brought in, as long as it would fit through the door. Later, he proposed to put 100,000 images up on the walls of P.S. 1 in New York, but that project was, sadly, never realized.
5 Mark Spiegler, “Do Art Critics Still Matter?” The Art Newspaper, no. 157, April 2005, p. 32.
6 Carolee Thea, Foci: Interviews with Ten International Curators (New York: Apex Art Curatorial Program, 2001), p. 19.
7 Curating Now: Imaginative Practice/Public Responsibility: Proceedings from a symposium addressing the state of current curatorial practice organized by the Philadelphia Exhibitions Initiative, October 14-15, 2000, edited by Paula Marincola (Philadelphia, PA: Philadelphia Exhibitions Initiative, 2001), p. 128. Both Szeemann and Hopps passed Hickey’s test: “The curator’s job, in my view,” he said, “is to tell the truth, to show her or his hand, and get out of the way” (p. 126).
8 Carolee Thea, p. 19 (emphasis added).
9 Daniel Birnbaum, p. 58.
10 Christopher Knight, “Walter Hopps, 1932-2005. Curator Brought Fame to Postwar L.A. Artists,” Los Angeles Times, March 22, 2005.
11At this writing, the U.S. government continues in its effort to prosecute artist Steven Kurtz for obtaining bacterial agents through the mail, even though the agents were harmless and intended for use in art pieces by the collaborative Critical Art Ensemble. Kurtz has said he believes the charges filed against him in 2004 (after agents from the FBI, the Joint Terrorism Task Force, the Department of Homeland Security, and the Depeartment of Defence swarmed over his house) are part of a Bush administration campaign to prevent artists from protesting government policies. “I think we’re in a very unfortunate moment now in U.S. history,” Kurtz has said. “A form of neo-McCarthyism has made a comeback. . . . We’re going to see a whole host of politically motivated trials which have nothing to do with crime but everything to do with artistic expression.” For the latest developments in the case, go to caedefensefund.org.
12 Epigraph to Nathan Sivin’s Chinese Alchemy: Preliminary Studies(Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1968).
13 Having Been Said: Writings & Interviews of Lawrence Weiner 1968-2003, edited by Gerti Fietzek and Gregor Stemmrich (Ostfildern-Ruit: Hatje Cantz Verlag, 2004), p. 315.
14 Hans Ulrich Obrist, “Walter Hopps Hopps Hopps—Art Curator,” Artforum, February 1996.
15 Jan Winkelman, “Failure as a Poetic Dimension: A Conversation with Harald Szeemann,” Metropolis M. Tijdschrift over Hedendaagse Kunst, No. 3, June 2001.
16 Carolee Thea, p. 17 (emphasis added).
17 Carolee Thea, p. 18.
18 With his co-curators Carlos Basualdo, Uta Meta Bauer, Susanne Ghez, Sarat Maharaj, Mark Nash, and Octavio Zaya.
19 Hans Ulrich Obrist, p. 430.
20 Vilém Flusser, “Habit: The True Aesthetic Criterion,” in Writings, edited by Andreas Ströhl, translated by Erik Eisel (Minneapolis and London: University of Minnesota Press, 2002), p. 52.
21 Harald Szeemann, “Does Art Need Directors?” in Words of Wisdom: A Curator’s Vade Mecum on Contemporary Art, edited by Carin Kuoni (New York: Independent Curators International, 2001), p. 169.
22 Jan Winkelman.
23 Flusser, p. 54.