The Curatorial
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The Curatorial

A Philosophy of Curating

Jean-Paul Martinon, Jean-Paul Martinon

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eBook - ePub

The Curatorial

A Philosophy of Curating

Jean-Paul Martinon, Jean-Paul Martinon

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About This Book

Stop curating! And think what curating is all about. This book starts from this simple premise: thinking the activity of curating. To do that, it distinguishes between 'curating' and 'the curatorial'. If 'curating' is a gamut of professional practices for setting up exhibitions, then 'the curatorial' explores what takes place on the stage set up, both intentionally and unintentionally, by the curator. It therefore refers not to the staging of an event, but to the event of knowledge itself. In order to start thinking about curating, this book takes a new approach to the topic. Instead of relying on conventional art historical narratives (for example, identifying the moments when artistic and curatorial practices merged or when the global curator-author was first identified), this book puts forward a multiplicity of perspectives that go from the anecdotal to the theoretical and from the personal to the philosophical. These perspectives allow for a fresh reflection on curating, one in which, suddenly, curating becomes an activity that implicates us all (artists, curators, and viewers), not just as passive recipients, but as active members. As such, the Curatorial is a book without compromise: it asks us to think again, fight against sweeping art historical generalizations, the sedimentation of ideas and the draw of the sound bite. Curating will not stop, but at least with this book it can begin to allow itself to be challenged by some of the most complex and ethics-driven thought of our times.

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Year
2013
ISBN
9781472533616
Part V
Refigurations
Textual rereading is never enough, even if one defines the text as the world. Reading, no matter how active, is not a powerful enough trope; we do not swerve decisively enough. The trick is to make metaphor and materiality implode in the culturally specific apparatuses of bodily production. What constitutes an apparatus of bodily production cannot be known in advance of engaging in the always messy projects of description, narration, intervention, inhabiting, conversing, exchanging, and building. The point is to get at how worlds are made and unmade, in order to participate in the processes, in order to foster some forms of life and not others. If technology, like language, is a form of life, we cannot afford neutrality about its constitution and sustenance. The point is not just to read the webs of knowledge production; the point is to reconfigure what counts as knowledge in the interests of reconstituting the generative forces of embodiment. I am calling this practice materialized refiguration; both words matter. The point is, in short, to make a difference – however modestly, however partially, however much without either narrative or scientific guarantees.
Donna J. Haraway*
*Donna J. Haraway, ‘A Game of Cat’s Cradle: Science Studies, Feminist Theory, Cultural Studies’, in Configurations 2, no. 1 (1994): 60–1.
19
Modern Art: Its Very Idea and the Time/Space of the Collection
Helmut Draxler
Modern art cannot be understood by looking at the individual paintings, sculptures, and objects that are conventionally said to exemplify it; one must consider them with a view to what unites them. Accordingly, modern art ought to be conceived as a peculiar narrative form that lends meaning and significance to this nexus. At the level of its motif, it abhors the narrative register; taken as a whole, however, it reveals itself to be defined by narrative form, and even a fairly simple one. The central motif of this narrative form is the overcoming of representation, of the picture constituted as likeness or reflection, on the way towards the assertion of the particular and autonomous reality of its picture-objects. Individual heroes paved this way, and even today scholars seek to trace the ‘prehistory of abstract art’1 and assess historic forms of expression with regard to their ‘modernness’ as measured by this narrative. Each individual work of art then reveals how far it has come on this path, becoming an indicator of progress towards an ideal, while the dubious pretensions of that ideal are rarely reflected upon. Even the avant-gardist critique of modern art at bottom continues in the same narrative vein precisely in its negative fixation on it, by searching for an autonomous reality beyond even the autonomous picture-objects or deriving said pretensions from the overcoming of these objects.
If we wish to take a contemporary stance vis-à-vis modern art, if we seek to assess it and place it in its historic context, then, it will be decisive that we avoid retelling this narrative as the ‘myth of an era’.2 In other words, it will be decisive that we neither historicize it as different from ‘contemporary art’ (as a concluded historic phenomenon charged with significance) nor simply invoke it as a ‘different modernity’. The goal must be instead to reconstruct the narrative form itself in its institutional and discursive conditions and its interconnections with other factors of modernization and to examine it in its uncanny presence. The point of this narrative form is that the intended agent of the overcoming of representation is the very same historical genealogy that conceives itself as progress. My argument, by contrast, will be that both elements, representation and genealogy, can be thought not as opposites but as closely tied in with, and hence utterly incapable of dissolving, each other. Both the narrative motif of representation and that of historical genealogy are rooted in the fundamental modes of the arrangement of pictures that first emerged in the depictions of collections since the seventeenth century. The collection itself can thus be defined as the primary code3 in accordance with which the nexus uniting the pictures was able to manifest itself in a historically specific form and that made the elaboration of the questions of representation and genealogy possible in the first place. The spatio-temporal coordinates of these modes of arrangement have not only decisively informed the genesis of the phenomenon known as modern art; to this day, they partly frame the ways in which we can think about it.
In other words, the space of the collection that appears in seventeenth- century gallery paintings represents not just the prince’s treasures and the prince himself, but most importantly the pictures, as special objects of representation. The path from the cabinets of curiosities of the Renaissance to the gallery in the modern sense indicates the changing status of the pictures. That a prince would have a ‘forest’ of pictures represent him makes sense only if these pictures and the mode of their arrangement could be held capable of accomplishing something special with regard to representation itself. The picture as the depiction of a scene capturing something of the ‘world’, whatever its nature, the picture as a tableau, that is to say, as an individual and collectible picture-object, and the picture as an element in a series of pictures that increasingly refer to one another – all these adumbrate the different levels on which the idea of representation unfolds. It would be insufficient, then, to describe representation as the mere depiction of a reality of whatever kind. Rather, representation designates the process in which the picture is charged with a specific meaning, in which whatever is depicted is assigned special significance within the framework of the symbolic form of the tableau, the form, banal in and of itself, of a – usually rectangular – movable pictorial support medium.
The imaginative space of a nexus of pictures that emerges in the gallery accordingly indicates not only the transition from the accumulation of curiosities to the taxonomical arrangement of pictures based on their sizes, themes, or genres or the schools of painting they exemplify, but also the emergence of a particular space composed of pictures. The ‘theatrum pictorum’4 – coulisse-like picture-walls, superimpositions of pictures resembling collage and sequences of picture-spaces folded in the manner of a house of cards – becomes the defining metaphor of this space. René Magritte is therefore not the first to conceive this picture-space as the ineluctable horizon of thinking before which pictures always refer only to other pictures. Even in the seventeenth century, this special space of representation refers first and foremost to itself, the representation of representation. Yet, in doing so, it depicts not only self-referentially itself, it also includes specific forms of relations in its field of vision: relations between the concrete picture-space and the space of pictures, between the people who populate the picture-space (the painter and the prince, for example), between them and the spaces and pictures to which each is assigned and finally between the picture-space/space of pictures and an exterior space, which is in most instances only hinted at. The selection of the pictures and the way they are arranged increasingly also come to define the volatile power of these relations on the level of substance. Starting in the eighteenth century, the growing historical dimension in particular swells this space of imagination to a phantasmatic magnitude into which reflections on the meaning of history, on processes of the formation of consciousness and on psychological dispositions find themselves. Giovanni Battista Piranesi, notably, reinterprets the accumulation of historic remnants into pictures of the internalization of imperial space. A thread leads from there to the abysmal collection-spaces in John Soane, and finally to that peculiar collector, Sigmund Freud, who will translate the space of the collection into the topology of psychological functions.5
The time of the collection accordingly appears primarily as a function of a particular mode of spatial arrangement. The nineteenth century witnesses the gradual ascent of historical forms of presentation that increasingly transform the space of pictures into the line of a sequential flow. The dynamisms governing this sequence, however, lend themselves to the most diverse interpretations – from progressive development to catastrophic demise. Heinrich Wölfflin finally sets this genealogical principle down as the transpersonal structural principle of art history. It ascribes to every work the internalized logic of a process, understood as obeying quasi-natural laws that take place between various polar principles, the ‘fundamental concepts of art history’. What emerges, based on photographic reproductions, is the time/space of an ‘Imaginary Museum’ spanning all concrete times and spaces. Yet even here, progress and regression are in balance – in the sense of the eternal recurrence of the same forever unchanging sequences, of corso and ricorso, as Giambattista Vico had described them.
Now modern art does not simply take the side of progress. It seeks instead to internalize the principle of genealogy and thereby to overcome once and for all the cycle of recurrence and, with it, representation. Each work conceives itself as standing at a particular moment in time and executing the logical consequence of the development of the historical ‘condition of the material’ (Adorno). This aspiration must be read not simply as seeking progress over some tradition, whatever its nature, but as the innermost consequence of that tradition. In other words, forces from within the tradition urge the work to transcend it. Modern art accordingly embodies these forces of tradition itself, suspending its own ambition to transcend the tradition. Nor does modern art escape representation; to the contrary, enlisting the assistance of genealogy, it drives representation to its extreme. That becomes clear once we understand that representation, far from being the illusionistic depiction of a particular reality, is an expectation of significance brought to the symbolic form of the tableau. In this sense, Piet Mondrian and Kazimir Malevich mark not the cancellation of the representational regime but its essence in a heightened form in which the very overcoming of representation as depiction allows for the attainment of another, ‘representative’ meaning: in the true ‘Suprematism’, the picture is charged with an ultimate and universal worldliness. With regard to the question of placement in the space of pictures, both positions remain torn between turning to a radical isolation of the picture, which will finally be realized in the form of presentation known as the White Cube, and transforming the ‘theatre of pictures’ into the endeavours towards a total work of art undertaken by De Stijl and the Constructivists.
Modern art, then, is certainly not only modern. It adopts the early modern idea of representation precisely where it seems to repudiate it. And the idea of an inner genealogical principle does not help it escape history; on the contrary, it inscribes it only the more deeply in that history. Modern art is and remains therefore firmly anchored in European history, even if it has found its temple in New York and has long become an available code that lends itself to a variety of global utilizations. Particularly indicative of this fact are the enlightenment myths of liberation and universality it has appropriated to itself. That appropriation should not lead us to forget, however, that these myths are also variants of a specific hegemonic narrative form that must even today be understood as a reflection of the same tradition it pretends to have overcome. That means that no end to the ‘representational regime’ is in sight. The collection as a metaphor of the accumulation of wealth or capital, but also of symbolic worldliness and power, and its coordinates in time-space continue to define the specificity of a culture just as a European or more generally Western culture seeks to enforce a dominant reading of globalization. So we need a critical revisionism that examines the mythical potential of the narrative form of modern art, tracing its criteria and categorizations and the inclusions and exclusions they give rise to as well as the representational and genealogical logics on which it is based. Such a revisionism would probably allow us to adopt a different perspective on the structural dynamisms concealed by one-dimensional logics of autonomous development, a perspective in which the interdependency between different processes of modernization would be the precondition for understanding the internal as well as external multiplicities6 that, we might come to realize, make up ‘modern art’, with all the tensions defining its contemporary manifestations, between on the one hand, the theatre of pictures on billboards and social networks and, on the other, the theatre of art staged by the global art business.
Translated by Gerrit Jackson
Notes
1Otto Stelzer, Die Vorgeschichte der abstrakten Kunst (Munchen: Piper, 1964).
2Paul Veyne, Die Originalität des Unbekannten. Für eine andere Geschichtsschreibung (Frankfurt am Main: Fischer-TB.-Vlg., 1988), S. 26.
3In a similar and highly interesting way Boris Groys talks about the ‘logic’ of the collection. I just don’t share his ‘entropic’, almost apocalyptic and totalizing interpretation of that logic. See Boris Groys, Logik der Sammlung. Am Ende des musealen Zeitalters (Munich: Essays, 1997).
4Ernst Vegelin van Claerbergen, ed., David Teniers and the Theatre of Painting (London: Courtauld Institute of Art Gallery in association with Paul Holberton Publishing, 2006).
5See: Donald Kuspit, ‘A Mighty Metaphor: The Analogy of Archaeology and Psychoanalysis’, in Sigmund Freud and Art: His Personal Collection of Antiquities, ed. Lynn Gamwell and Richard Wells (New York: Harry N Abrams, 1989), 133–51 and Janine Burke, The Sphinx on the Table: Sigmund Freud’s Art Collection and the Devolopmen...

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