Coincidence and Curation: The Liverpool Biennial, HUO and Me (or, at least, what I’m reading)

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I am finalising a book proposal, which means that I am avidly synthesising and summarising my ideas so that I can pitch it succinctly and clearly to a future publisher. The book is on tastemakers and tastemaking and will draw on some ideas around curation. For this, I have been reading Curationism (2015) by David Balzer, amongst other works. In this, he makes much of the curator Hans Ulrich Obrist (often referred to as HUO), whose career up the point of writing, he summarises and critiques “[a]s the world’s most famous contemporary-art curator” who “sets a remarkable precedent, acting as the archetype for the professionalization and domination of his field” (Balzer 2015, 11). Prior to reading this book, I was not aware of HUO, so it came as a pleasant surprise to happen upon the announcement that HUO will be interviewing Agnès Varda at an opening event as part of the Liverpool Biennial on Friday 13th of July and I have managed to get tickets. She was the primary draw for me, but to see HUO will be an added attraction having read Balzer’s book.

In Curationism, Balzer dedicates a prologue to HUO seeming to both admire and decry his presence in the art world. He describes his busyness and industry, his connections to key players in the art world and celebrity (Kanye West, amongst others), and as “the typification of the curationist moment” as well as “its natural harbinger” (Balzer 2015, 21). HUO, for Balzer, is exemplary of a phenomenon that came out of three significant shifts in the art world: performance art, de-professionalization (or de-skilling) of artists, and decreased government funding which has made museums and galleries dependant on visitor numbers. Curation has become both highly specialist, idiosyncratic, and professionalized in the figure of HUO, and distributed, generalized, and amateur, as experienced by all of us in our everyday from online selves to real, lived experiences. We are, in Balzer’s words, living in a “curationist moment” (2015, 2). So, it is a fascinating moment to see one of the most (in)famous curators, HUO, speak to an invited curator-artist-director (celebrity curator, in Balzer’s terms), Varda, at a moment when public, gallery, and ad hoc pop-up spaces throughout the city of Liverpool will be carefully and artfully curated for the Biennial.

Reading

Balzer, David (2015) Curationism: How Curating Took Over the World, the Art World and Everything Else (London: Pluto Press).

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