Notes on the Reader (Dialogues on Curating: Part 2)


Since we organized Work in Progress: Dialogues on Curation (Part 1) about six months ago, activities in the curatorial sphere have steadily grown―thereby, positioning the contemporary curator as an integral thinker-producer in the cultural field. This reader offers itself as a moment of ‘pause’―not in the sense of a coffee break but as a double-edged examination of the recent past and potential future of curating as ‘thinking through doing.’

There has been a conscious effort to gather a constellation of curatorial approaches in the form of case-studies and creative proposals—from Bangladesh-based DRIK Picture Library to a store-front project space located within a lively hutong in Beijing―Arrow Factory. It includes Daniel Baumann’s introduction to a reference guide on 17 public art projects generated during the construction of a motorway in North Basel, and Charles Esche’s modest proposals for Cork Caucus that demonstrate a commitment to ‘imagine things otherwise’ and attempt to locate the place of ‘collective will’ in  individualized late capitalist societies.

The increasingly relevant thematic of Exhibition as Process takes note of the characteristics of exhibition-making as social contextualization, cultural interventions, participatory frameworks and reflexive positions. By focusing on the subtle twists and turns of journeys undertaken by curators rather than final destination(s)—overt display mechanisms and solidified taxonomies; the essays by Nina Möntmann and Brian Holmes focus on the shifts in institutionalism and modes by which the arts can create and maintain democratic zones of polyvocality[i]. Artist-curator, Emily Roysdon’s Ecstatic Resistance, is a key example of a research-based curatorial approach grounded in activism that ‘celebrates the impossible as lived experience and the place from which our best will come’[ii]. Bruce Altshuler re-visits the history of avant-garde exhibitions as precursors to the conceptual strategies employed in Hans Ulrich Obrist’s itinerant do it project.

Further, we engage with the notion of curatorial responsibility through an essay by RAQS Media Collective, a conversation from ‘Rotterdam Dialogues’ (organized by Witte De With) that asks: Is the Curator per Definition a Political Animal? The Representations and Responsibilities segment continues with research scholar, Núria Querol’s article which stresses upon curation not simply as a globalized practice but one having socio-political specificity and micro-tendencies even whilst operating within global structures. Susan Hapgood chooses to deal with muddy areas of ethics and financial networks in the field of contemporary art.

Media’s Materialities are discussed through the historiography of photography as artistic endeavour and central facet of social memory. While the camera is explored as a cultural instrument, accents of voyeurism and the gaze operative within urban topographies are addressed by Christiane Brosius and Urs Stahel. Gayatri Sinha’s essay from her recently edited volume, Art and Visual Culture in India: 1857-2007, locates the performative quotient built into photographic practices—primordial and contemporary. The landmark exhibition, Where Three Dreams Cross: 150 Years of Photography from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, is referenced through Sabeena Gadihoke’s catalogue essay—which contextualizes photography’s negotiations with public space.

Finally, in Publics for Art, rather than debating the specificities and ideologies of public art, we move onto reflecting upon the fragmented nature of the public sphere and thus, present Simon Sheikh’s reading of ‘post-publics,’ alongside Nancy Adajania’s take on public art as a set of fluctuating possibilities realized through active use of the public domain[iii]. Through her writing, Miwon Kwon suggests that there is a growing urgency to distinguish between the ‘cultivation’ of art and places and their ‘appropriation’ for the promotion of cities as cultural commodities[iv]. Geeta Kapur’s essay―Curating: In the Public Sphere, provides an extensive assessment of the cultures of curating and the public persona of historic exhibitions. Kapur also highlights the avant-garde’s role in creating alternative constituencies and developing forms of curatorial address.

I’m extremely grateful to all the authors, institutions and publishers[v] who were generous in sharing content with us so that this reader may serve as a reference tool and research guide especially for students and for cultural practitioners at large.

Natasha Ginwala

Amsterdam, January 2011

[i] The Enterprise of the Art Institution in Late Capitalism by Nina Möntmann, published in multilingual e-journal: Transversal, 2007, online source:

[ii] Catalogue Essay, Ecstatic Resistance by Emily Roysdon, 2009, online source:

[iv] Public Art and Urban Identities by Miwon Kwon, published by European Institute for Progressive Cultural Policies (eipcp) in a multilingual web journal – Transversal. Online source:

[v] For details of all text sources please refer to the Credits section of the reader

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