Nico de Oliveira

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

‘A Book of Burning Matches: Collecting Installation Art Documents’ at Me-Collection, Berlin, 2015

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.


Tutor Nico de Oliveira

Tutor biography

Nico de Oliveira

Course Leader, MA Curating the Contemporary

Nicolas de Oliveira is a writer and curator.

Dissertation Studios

Studio 1: Another India

Harriet McKay

Studio 1: Another India will examine, reflect upon and critique the historic use of "exotic" motifs in design.

Studio 2: Contemporary Ecology

Nabil Ahmed

In Studio 2 we will explore environmental topics through the lens of art, architecture, spatial practice, media and design disciplines.

Studio 3: Music is the Weapon: Performance, Culture and the Music Industry

Christina Paine

Studio 3: Music is the Weapon: Performance, Culture and the Music Industry is an exploration of race, gender, class and more in music.

Studio 4: Not allowed

Emma Davenport

Studio 4: What Not to Wear? will investigate the roles that dress and fashion play in our workplaces.

Studio 5: Imperfect Theories

Ektoras Arkomanis

Studio 5: Imperfect Theories allows you to critically examine any work that can be seen as theory or presents an interesting relationship with theory.

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

Nico de Oliveira

Studio 6: 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.

Studio 7: Souvenir

Dr Lesley Stevenson

Studio 7: This studio is concerned with those objects that are lent a particular enchantment because of their relationship with the past.

Studio 8: Post – card

Edwina Attlee

Studio 8 will look at one element of that system – the picture postcard – from a number of different perspectives.

Studio 9: ‘The Form of the Text’

Danielle Hewitt

Studio 9: Together we will explore the space of criticism; acknowledging our point of encounter with objects, places, sites and processes and the relationship between text, writer and reader.

Studio 10: Constellating

Sinead Evans

As creative practitioners we digest and produce images every day – as citizens of the digital age we consume between hundreds and thousands of images each day. This dissertation studio will slim down your daily diet to one image.

Studio 11: Science Fiction Futurity

Luke Jones

Speculative descriptions of the future reveal a magnified — or distorted — reflection of the fears and desires of the present.

Studio 12: Alternative Fashioned Modernities

Lezley George

Much is happening in the world today that foregrounds questions pertinent to our identities in a globalised world.

Studio 13: Desire, Trauma, History

Jonathan Whitehall

How does the relationship of memory to fantasy affect history? What are the links between desire, sexuality and trauma? How are these relationships played out or negotiated in visual and written practice? These questions will form the beginning of our enquiries into artworks, films and literature.

Studio 14: Design and Nature: Forms of an Entanglement

Gabriele Oropallo

We will look at how the idea of nature has been constructed over time and place, and study its impact on design practice in an age marked by the sustainability imperative.

Studio 15: Music, Technology and Ideas

Lewis Jones

Studio 15: Music, Technology and Ideas encourages you to explore how and why we make music, including its origin, relationship to technology and more.

Studio 16: Narrative and Storytelling

Jon Baldwin

Studio 16: Narrative and Storytelling will see you produce storygraphs, storyboards and various forms of narrative analysis in the seminars.

Studio 17: Knowing Audiences

Jeremy Collins

Studio 17: Knowing Audiences will encourage you to study an audience group using qualitative research methods in your investigations.

Studio 18: Time and the Image

David Howells

This workshop will address some perennial problems of writing in the field of visual culture.

Studio 19: Material in Motion

Heidi Yeo

Studio 19: This studio will explore a reading of objects focusing on the interplay between materials, the objects they form and their context.

Studio 20: The Liminal

Andrew Hewish

This Dissertation Studio examines instances of the liminal as they occur in critical theory and culture, and is open to any topic and students from all disciplines.

Studio 21: Reading the library (and nothing but the library)

Joseph Kohlmaier

This year, Studio 21 will stage an unusual experiment. It will move, unpack, catalogue, and perform readings from one private library; and make this library, without exception, the single resource for all the research and writing in the studio.

Studio 22: Meaningful work

Paul Harper

Studio 22: Meaningful work explores the value of making and the idea of craft as meaningful work.

Studio 23: A Common Thread

Gina Pierce

Studio 23: In A Common Thread, we unpick and examine the importance of textiles and how they underpin culture, industry, and global connections.

Cass Studios archive by year