Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Hans Ulrich Obrist, A Brief History of Curating, ISBN 978-3-905829-55-6 & ISBN 978-2-84066-287-7, Book report by craniv boyd.

Hans Ulrich Obrist, A Brief History of Curating, ISBN 978-3-905829-55-6 & ISBN 978-2-84066-287-7, Book report by craniv boyd.


The book is miss billed, for it is a short collection of interviews conducted with the Swiss born Curator Hans Ulrich Obrist, and with museum directors and Austellungsmacher (Innen). As one could have it, this concise focused grouping of talks about the career-paths and professional interests of men and women who direct or create art museums and thematic exhibitions with emphasis and or holdings in modern and present day art, could just as well be named, Transcribed Conversations with Influential Museum Staff, for example, and thereby provide a more accurate image of what this volume's contents are. The majority of the talks are in-fact a long format conversational précis of the Curriculum Vitæ, belonging to the interviewees; selected curators that: either Hans Ulrich Obrist found interesting & consented to be interviewed by him, or was on assignment for heavy weight New York City published art magazine Art Forum.


The late American, Anne d'Hornoncourt, former Museum Director of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, in Philadelphia the late Swedish, Pontus Hultén, the former Director of Moderna Museet in Stockholm, and Centre Georges Pompidou, in Paris, are two of the illustrious people profiled and both individuals share a vibrant passion for art, judging from the contents of each interview alone. Both interviewed Museum directors possess a common love for artists, emphasized with long-term professional relationships, and allegiances. Both museum directors each emphasize, at points their friendships with artists. The other explicit thing mentioned is study of art. 


Another attribute, if one reads this series of interviews from a lens of type casting, would be that many of the museum directors interview in a Brief History of Curating, elect to let the artworks, and therefore, the artists speak for themselves as it were, eschewing a limelight and composing in a manor that does justice to artworks and societal import of said works with, generally speaking, presentation methods that are stayed, allowing both art work to happen, and for a lively museum going experience. It seems that those museum directors who are scholars in the history of art are categorically supportive of collecting museums. Museums, for them, are sites of inspiration, and in Hultén's case a permanent collection is both a source of energy, and asset that provides sustainability for stormy changes of guard. This appreciation and reverence for permanent collections, is in stark contrast to other exhibition authors and independent curators without an art historical background, who like Seth Siegelaub, or Harold Szeemann, elect for more playful experimental and thereby heavy handed thematic exhibitions, one can gather from their statements, exhibitions which cast the curator in the rather unclear shifting role of impresario, arts manager, hat wearer, ect. The statements of those exhibition organizers, with the smaller charge of a Kunsthalle, a space with at times no permanent collection, no obligation and considerably less commitment than a collecting art institution, appear to, step to the fore in their authorship of an exhibition. As a loose group, some of the Kunsthalle directors interviewed for this book, favor more of a big impact, opting for a brand of intellectual sensationalism, or interactivity for an all too well informed public who just needs to know the name of whomever hung the Rauschenberg next to the Johns because that public of, Bern, Lausanne, Zürich, or Vienna for that matter, is more likely to own a Warhol or a Beuys than those, in Philadelphia who ascend the same iconic steps (albeit considerably less heroically, during opening hours) Sly Stallone as "Rocky" did on his morning jogging in the streets of Philadelphia captured on celluloid.


A Brief History of Curating, concerns itself with people who engineer to a certain measure a public's interface with art objects, individuals who see their charge at times to educate a public about art and by stewarding that encounter, allow the art to uplift people. As such, strikingly absent are images of exhibitions or illustrations of art works. People above the digital divide have search engines with their high-speed Internet connexions after all. The book and the conversations had could be viewed as what late nighttime television in the U.S.A. is to a Hollywood star, with an upcoming film release. However, my analogy fails to fit in that the banter is not over pleasures gained and lessons culled from working with S. Spielberg, or R. Scott, names like Duchamp and Van der Rohe and de Menil pepper the interviews, and what strikes the chord of base self promotion in the former is, vaunted æsthetical discourse in the latter, even if its original purpose was as part of a square shaped glossy monthly periodical you can purchase in a Kiosk. Another failing of my analogy that seeks to cast Hans Ulrich Obrist as a Johnny Carson type personality of the art world, is that many of the people speaking are at the time of interview conduction, old. They look back at lives full spent in the company of art, and discuss openly changes in political climates, their impacts on cultural policy, in post war Europe 1960's South America and North America from the 1930's to the near present.


In that the book makes conversationally available busy people, and also some deceased who worked in museums. All provide narrative of their lifetime achievements it is of interest if one wants to foster preliminary understanding on a transnational basis for what the concerns of personnel in leadership positions of museums of modern art are. This is one of the book's fascinating merits, a collection of people some of whom collect art for the public good, via the institutions they head.


History as such, no such luck, not in this book at least, from reading A Brief History of Curating, one suspects that the author Hans Ulrich Obrist would be capable of writing his life memoirs of the years 1998- 2011 with the key board functions of cut copy paste in a word processing computer program. By craniv boyd. 

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