How are authors curated on Medium

The curator as a medium

It was still a rumor, the election of an art curator as artistic director of a major capital city theater, when a well-known art collector announced that such a choice would be “the best that could happen for Berlin”. It was not so important whether it would then also be for the theater. Only in the background was the question asked whether the reasons for such a decision, regardless of the undisputed qualification of the curator, were primarily to be found in motifs of location marketing.

Measured in terms of media attention, evidently guided by targeted indiscretions, measured in terms of the attention value of the names that were already circulating two years before the management started, one can say: mission completed. The personality of Chris Dercon makes clear the political influence that the art curator has now acquired: no task too small; nothing that is not expected of him. For a political class that is very insecure due to demographics and empty coffers, the art curator represents a new assurance that one can count on the support of opinion-forming people and the media as well as on a telephone book with the correct names. The art curator dampens the fear of art, of the "anger of an individual who has withdrawn into the semi-darkness of a cave" (the departing director in conversation). He embodies the hope that things will slip with the creative industries. It is a promise of order in an increasingly incomprehensible world. The more disturbing contemporary art, the more urgent the need for explanation and orientation through discourse machines.

The Swiss curator Hans Ulrich Obrist provides in his book Curate! not the theory of these relationships, but their illustration. As a form of existence, the curator fits in perfectly with post-industrial working methods: well connected, always up to date, always on the go. One might consider it a quirk of Obrist, but the fact that he experiments on himself how he can reduce sleep to a minimum predestines him for a world in which the night has been abolished by "data volumes".

Only an ubiquitous form of life can still digest the constant increase in information. Andy Warhol already accumulated unbelievable amounts of material in "time capsules"; but he would never have thought of making use of them. For the contemporary curator, sleep and food become a waste of time and transit becomes home. “The night trains taught me to sleep when it was possible.” Using the kitchen for cooking would be all too banal (“because I always eat out”), since it can be used as an exhibition space.

A little unfocused

Although the curator regularly presents himself as a dissident form, he is only really influential if he is and remains mainstream. The relationship to the curator's power is always the blind spot in what he does, because his success cannot primarily be judged by artistic standards, but by the influence he exerts. Only he who has power has won; whoever has time has lost. The star curator no longer has to enforce artists; he only has to ensure alternative “connections” and the best possible or as spectacular as possible presentation of the names. Obrist, who has curated in Zurich, Paris, Vienna, Hamburg, New York (list incomplete), seems to have reached a point where it is questionable whether he still “curates” at all. The person has long been at large, to the brand. Wherever it appears, meaning and added value arise. Unlike Harald Szeemann, Obrist can no longer actually be identified as the “author” of an exhibition or a project; he is their medium.

This also applies to the present book, which seems a little unfocused, which begins chronologically and then turns into a sequence of descriptions and encounters. Anyone expecting an analysis or theory of curating contemporary art here will be disappointed. The impulse of the book is more hidden in the exclamation mark in the title: curating not as a critical-historical practice with social concerns, no, but as an incessant agent; as if everything had to be curated without wasting time. The man has no time to write books anyway, it seems: The book was created “with” Asad Raza. One can take it for vanity that Obrist constantly shares with which really important people he is well known ("On January 1, 2000 I phoned Matthew Barney", "How (Gerhard) Richter told me" and so on). But that would not do him justice, because all the lists are more reminiscent of the young colonel who knocked on the doors of great artists as a student and asked to be admitted. It just hasn't stopped since then.

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Obrist only sees connections everywhere. Everything is affirmation, everything is great. To be critical is part of the jingling of discourse, as long as it is not directed against the structures of the art market. The possible entanglement in the connections between art marketing and the art market and the value creation logic of the art world never become an issue, at best the worry that the party might end: “a kind of speculative bubble”. Basically, the curators act as agents in the art market to determine what is “hot”. Conversely, the curator himself is the subject of continuous evaluation in the rankings of international art magazines and internet platforms from upcoming up to most influential, so most wanted. To one or the other, this state of affairs and one's own role in it may seem like a profession.

Help!

Curating becomes a seemingly inconsistent reconciliation of opposites. The connection between aggressive location marketing and social conditions at the locations of the rampant art biennials, which the star curators poach each other at high prices, is also ignored. “Biennials are a form of urban planning.” In the service of the creative industries, a new urban subject is being designed that no longer experiences the social contrasts of cities as a problem: “You should be able to walk around, see, hear or experience something, then move on and do something eat or have a coffee, take a nap in the park and then come back. ”You can understand why the art business gets along so well with the lifestyle of the big city bohemians. “Curating changes with the change in art,” says Hans Ulrich Obrist. After reading the book, however, you get the impression that art is gradually changing through curating, and that it is an expression of a “curated” world. May art save us from that!

Curate!Hans Ulrich Obrist Asad Raza (arrangement), C.H. Beck 2015, 206 pp., € 19.95