Issue 1/2017

The Post-Curatorial Turn


The curator has become arguably the most predominant figure in the art world over the last few decades. The figure at the centre of exhibition-making has been the curator, and this is often still the case; his or her authority and authorship seem as indispensable as ever, both in the established art business ‘institutional structures and in alternative scenes. Criticism has often been levelled over the years at this central, hegemonic position, indeed primacy vis-à-vis artists and at the bifurcating connections that constitute the very fabric of the art system. Nevertheless, reflections that move beyond the deep-rooted curator model, or address alternative modes of showing art or embedding it in broader contexts remain rare.
Other forms of cooperation have however been emerging recently, mostly on a practical level, in the exhibition world: practices that move beyond the principle of the curator’s sole authorship and experiment with other forms of presenting art and conveying knowledge. In the light of these approaches, observable in many different locations, a legitimate question that arises is whether we are on the threshold of a “post-curatorial turn”. Or whether such a “turn”, often proclaimed somewhat prematurely in every conceivable context, has already begun to take effect in exhibition production or presentations of art outside the frame of accustomed formats.
In his essay, Simon Sheikh traces out the theoretical framework within which talk of the “post-curatorial turn” might reasonably be situated. Sheikh begins by drawing a series of distinctions between the broad realm of the “curatorial” (in contrast to the fixed, one-dimensional model of “curating”) and the “paracuratorial” as a constellation of discourse and knowledge extending beyond the exhibition setting. This expanded perspective is essential to identify to what extent a possible “post-curatorial” formation could appear, and on what kind of basis—with this underpinning, furthermore, being closely related to current economic and employment circumstances.
Vasif Kortun, until 2017 Director of SALT in Istanbul, has long applied the term “post-curatorial” to the type of practice he engages in and supports. In his essay Kortun sketches out the contours of the concepts and its applicability to (post-)curatorial undertakings—taking care to ensure that bringing together certain ideas that have been in circulation for some time to does not generate a new form of orthodoxy. Vasif Kortun\\\'s strategy of moving beyond conventional exhibition formats is by no means an isolated example, as Kaelen Wilson-Goldie underlines. Her brief overview presents practices such as those at SALT, but also those adopted by Ashkal Alwan in Beirut or Townhouse in Cairo as promising tactics, which sometimes make a virtue out of necessity: these formats go against the grain of the usual habits in the exhibition world, partly because no other option is available in terms of infrastructure front, but also partly as a rejection of the author/curator as an art institution “power pole”. This is underscored in the conversation with Jakarta-based ruangrupa, which counters that model with a complex structure of participatory, network-oriented negotiated processes. Strikingly, ruangrupa, a prime example of a post-curatorial collective, is sceptical about the seemingly obvious idea of non-hierarchical “horizontality”.
Vit Havránek explores the enormous extent to which excessive, structurally entrenched demands are imposed on the author/curator today in Western institutions. Havránek describes a conveyor belt model seemingly indebted to the Fordist principle, in which everyone involved ultimately ends up, figuratively speaking, trampled underfoot. Post-Fordist re-orientation—associated with the buzzwords of flexibilization and precaritisation—seems to make matters even worse, yet the subjects involved are less and less able to do justice to their own imperatives. In Havránek\\\'s diagnosis the only remedy lies in a new form of “institutional therapy” adapted to contemporary circumstances, a kind of “self-healing”, although the requisite analytic means to addition this have not yet been invented.
Further analyses of this topic are introduced in the essays by Magda Tyzlik-Carver and Moritz Scheper. Tyzlik-Carver considers the conditions to which the “curatorial” is exposed within increasingly digitalised and network-based contexts. Her provocative conclusion is that a curatorial authority that moves beyond any human authorship is beginning to take shape at present, a form of “post-human curating”. Moritz Scheper picks up the discussion on the other side of this inequation. His analysis demonstrates clearly the extent to which artists are seeking to regain a certain degree of interpretative sovereignty over their work nowadays, illustrating his argument with a reference to the artist Novel, currently experiencing great popular and critical acclaim.
Throughout the essays in this edition, the overarching theme that emerges is how much the freshly awakened interest in the development of genre-busting exhibition formats and presentation modes coincides with new, self-organised para-institutional constellations. Alternative teaching and learning practices play as significant a role in this context as a newly defined “post-curatorial” agency, a construction within which the individual curator is just one of many components.