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  • Issues in Curating Contemporary Art and Performance
  • John F. Barber (bio)
Issues in Curating Contemporary Art and Performance edited by Judith Rugg and Michèle Sedgwick. Intellect, Bristol, U.K., 2007. 184 pp., illus. ISBN: 978-1-84150-162-8.

Over the past decade, the boundaries between the artist and the curator have become increasingly blurred and questioned. Much of this debate is driven by the rapid expansion of emerging curatorial practices as applied to contemporary art and performance. At what point, one wonders, does the curated art show or performance shift its focus from artist to curator, from collection to production, from individual statement to overarching narrative? Pertinent issues arising from emerging practices include curating as interdisciplinary practice, as intervention and contestation, as reconsideration of traditional gallery space and as a problematic undertaking from several perspectives.

Drawing together artists, curators, architects and cultural theorists, Issues in Curating Contemporary Art and Performance proposes new approaches to addressing these issues, as well as for developing critical examination of the increasingly expanding and complex field of inquiry contemporary curating has become.

Broad in scope, but deep in implication, Issues in Curating Contemporary Art and Performance addresses curating exhibitions of contemporary dance, art and science collaborations, film and video (or film as video), writing, electronic (digital) art and photography in gallery and non-gallery spaces, museum or other installations, and virtual and/or textual fields. Essays within the four thematic divisions of the book address the perception of a curatorial discourse, the role of the curator, curating as a form of research in a world of shifting perceptions [End Page 167] and cultural representations, the exhibition as a form of methodology, reconsiderations of exhibition space (especially with regard to computer-based art, animation and site-specific performance), and curating as a form of interdisciplinary encounter between critical writing and editing. Each essay in this collection explores theoretical and practical issues associated with contemporary curatorial practices. Several chapters provide detailed case studies that examine the application of theory and practice and their results. In all, this collection emphasizes the complexity of the terrain in which curating operates.

For example, an essay entitled "The Curatorial Turn: From Practice to Discourse," by Paul O'Neil, leads off the collection's first division, "Forms of Thinking in Contemporary Curating," with the contention that current curatorial discourse is in the midst of its own production. O'Neil says curators are "willing themselves to be the key subject and producer of this discourse" (p. 26) when they ask and answer questions like "Is the curator an artist who pulls together work from others to produce an exhibition?" "Is the emphasis of such an exhibition on the exhibition itself, the artist(s), or the curator?" and "Do curators help bring art to the public eye, or merely assist in its merchandising?"

Another example, this one from the collection's second part, "Curating and the Interdisciplinary: Encounter, Context, Experience," questions the constitution of legitimate sites for criticism through interdisciplinary approaches to curating. Jane Rendell, in her essay "Critical Spatial Practice: Curating, Editing, Writing," notes, "in demanding that we exchange what we know for what we don't know, and give up the safety of competence for the dangers of potential incompetence, the transformational experience of interdisciplinary work produces a potentially destabilizing engagement with dominant power structures allowing the emergence of new and often uncertain forms of knowledge" (p. 60).

The two essays in Part 3, "The Role of the Curator: Contestation and Consideration," foreground the blurring of the roles of artists and curators when the curator becomes both a custodian of artworks and a producer who facilitates art projects. Certainly, the juxtaposition and re-contextualization of individual works can manipulate and alter their meanings, as well as narrow views of them to particular themes or foci, but the internal dynamics of grouped artworks is a by-product of skills curators bring to bear on their knowledge of the audience for their endeavors.

The collection's final part, "Emergent Practices: Subverting the Museum," looks at how curating may be a form of critical invention when it considers the "space" of the exhibition. Essays in this part examine curating animation based...


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pp. 167-168
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