From Museum Curator to Exhibition Auteur - inventing a singular position

Heinich, Nathalie
Pollak, Michael

Heinich and Pollak begin by outlining the manner in which the professional position of curator has changed over its history. Whereas curators historically were charged primarily with safeguarding artifacts collected by cultural institutions, curators nowadays must not only enrich cultural heritage—largely through the purchasing of contemporary art—but also bring it to the public. Particular emphasis today is placed on the importance of connecting with people who have no special knowledge or experience with art. Accordingly, exhibitions have also changed from in the past having been displays of a particular collection to now predominantly being thematised shows that are conceived around an artist, movement or idea and that contain works owned by multiple different collecting bodies. Curators, like the group of artworks they assemble, are thus oftentimes not affiliated specifically with one institution but rather act more autonomously and authoritatively than they have in the past. Heinich and Pollak compare the curator-as-author to cinema’s concept of an auteur, a monolithic figure who carries out a multiplicity of tasks and operates as a singular name rather than as an institutional representative. This ‘autonomisation’ of the curator has been somewhat paradoxically accompanied by a de-professionalisation of the role that has permitted a wider understanding of who can be a curator.

John White

Exhibition Rhetorics: Material speech and utter sense

Greenberg, Reesa
Ferguson, Bruce W.
Nairne, Sandy
London: Routledge

Ferguson suggests that while art objects and art institutions have been regularly examined and critiqued within contemporary critical enquiry, the practices and effects of exhibition-making have remained mostly invisible. And yet, they are crucial to an understanding of the politics of representation in our culture, and indeed central to our understanding of contemporary art.

The ‘cultural industries’ identified by Adorno and Horkheimer, can now be seen as part of the broader ‘consciousness industries’ (characterized by Hans Enzberger to include advertising, education and ‘infotainment’) and these are contemporary forms, Ferguson suggests, of traditional rhetoric. Every element of an exhibition has a strategic function, with political, psychological, ideological, socio-historical and structural ramifications.

Ferguson argues that all exhibitionary procedures – from labels to lighting - are part of the exhibition’s ‘active recitation.’ The institution operates from within a network of influences, and its unconscious ‘desires’ are unintentionally communicated. Ferguson speculates, with deliberate anthropomorphism, that the exhibition can be seen as “the material speech of an essentially political institution”. “The building, its agents and its projects combine to produce what might be called a character – the speaking and performing body by which it is known and judged, seen and heard.”

The key question for Ferguson’s essentially post-structural analysis is the extent to which exhibitions resist an illusory ‘affirmative narrative’ and admit to their institution’s complex multiplicities and contradictions. “Otherwise the exhibition as a speech performance, will remain a loud monologue followed by a long silence […]”

Kirstie Skinner