Studio 6: Curating as a Spatial Practice: From the Wunderkammer to Installation art

Studio brief

Today the distinction between making, showing and writing has been called into question. Art has become a matter of public production and experiencing of art, and curating plays a vital role in these processes. Curating has moved from an activity undertaken by museum and gallery professionals towards a creative discipline; in short, artworks and their display are now one and the same thing. According to the theorist Boris Groys, the rise of installation art has transformed the public space of the exhibition into a private space, organised by the artist. From museums, galleries, artist-run projects and the web, it is clear that space is now a contested place. Crucial in this respect is the relationship between artists, curators, writers and the audience.

As these relationships are destabilised they become more productive and lead to significant change, typified in the rise of the artist as curator, and of the curator as artist, two developments, which give further credence to the vital debate around display. Moreover, the position of the art critic and the art historian is no longer preeminent, as blogging has opened the field of discussion towards the curatorial.

As a result the remit of curating has expanded into a discoursive practice that reaches many areas of our lives; from architecture and design, to theatre and social media. Curating, formerly the preserve of art galleries and specialists, has become an essential part of our overloaded lives. Dispelling the old idea that more is better we need to make better informed, rather than more choices.

This dissertation studio examines the impact of curatorial practice on art in particular, and aims to help students to contextualise their own practice, and that of others within the field of display. Here, text is as much a matter of writing as it is of placing or curating. With this in mind, the studio begins by looking at a short history of curating, followed by a close reading of texts on the subject; these sessions will be followed by group discussions and, later, tutorials to develop students’ own topics towards the full dissertation.

This dissertation studio is designed to help students who are interested in curating as a broad subject, as well as those who wish to contextualise their own practice within the scope of displaying art.

Initial Timetable

  • Week 1: Introduction to the subject: What is the role of curating today? Setting of Shelf project – select one or two working partners
  • Week 2: A Short History of Curating (Part 1: From the Salon to Modernism) – lecture/seminar
  • Week 3: A Short History of Curating (Part 2: The Avantgarde and the Contemporary) – lecture/seminar
  • Week 4: Presentation of Shelf project
  • Week 5: First group topic discussions
  • Week 6: Guided exhibition visit (TBC)
  • Week 7: Presentation of student topics

Reading list

  1. Michael Bhaskar, Curation: The Power of Selection in a World of Excess, Piatikus, 2016.
  2. David Balzer, Curationism: How Curating Took over the Artworld and Everything Else, Coach House Books, 2014.
  3. Lucy Lippard, From Conceptualism to Feminism, Afterall Books, London, 2012.
  4. Sarah Thornton, Seven Days in the Artworld, Granta Books, London, 2009.
  5. Hans Ulrich Obrist, Lucy Lippard, A Brief History of Curating, JRP Ringier, Zurich, 2008.
  6. Paul O’Neill, Curating Subjects, Open Editions, London, 2007.
  7. Paul O’Neill, The Culture of Curating and the Curating of Culture(s), MIT Press, Camb. Mass., 2012.
  8. Bruce Altshuler: Salon to Biennial: Exhibitions that Made Art History, Volume 1: 1863-1959, Phaidon, London, 2008.
  9. Bruce Altshuler: Biennials and Beyond: Exhibitions that Made Art History: 1962-2002, Phaidon, London, 2013.
  10. Claire Bishop, Artificial Hells: Participatory Art and the Politics of Spectatorship, Verso, London, 2012.
  11. Kitty Scott (ed.), Raising Frankenstein, Curatorial Education and its Discontents, Koenig Books, 2011
  12. Jens Hoffmann (ed.), Ten Fundamental Questions of Curating, Mousse Publishing, London,  2013.
  13. Boris Groys, Going Public, Sternberg Press, Berlin, 2011.
  14. Brian O’Doherty, Studio and Cube: On the Relationship between where Art is made and Art is displayed, Princeton Architectural Press, 2008.
  15. Dorothea von Hantelmann, How to do Things with Art: The Meaning of Art’s Performativity, JRP Ringier, Zurich, 2010.
  16. Alex Coles, The Transdisciplinary Studio, Sternberg Press, Berlin, 2012.
  17. Sarah Cook (et al), Curating New Media, Baltic, Gateshead, 2002.
  18. Jean-Hubert Martin, Cautionary Tales: Critical Curating, Apex, 2007.
  19. Beryl Graham (et al): Rethinking Curating: Art after New Media, MIT Press, Camb. Mass., 2012.
  20. Miwon Kwon, One Place after another: Site-Specific Art and Locational Identity, MIT Press, Camb. Mass, 2003.

Brief CV

Nicolas de Oliveira is a curator and writer based in London. He was a co-founder of the Museum of Installation, London, and other independent galleries, curating over 200 works and shows. Currently, he co-directs SE8 Gallery, focusing on new projects by emerging contemporary artists. His imprint Mulberry Tree Press, begun in 2010, specialises in artists’ publications and vinyl editions. He has also published seminal books on installation art and numerous artists’ monographs.

His major exhibition ‘A Book of Burning Matches: Collecting Installation Art Documents’ was shown at Me-Collection, Berlin in 2015. It restaged historical documentation in the form of photographs, video, and sound recordings as an immersive display.

Image of room with display cases and art documents on the walls


Tutor Nico de Oliveira

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