Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Correspondences: Michael Turner

Last Monday I returned from a weekend symposium entitled Are Curators Unprofessional? at the Banff Centre for the Arts. The symposium was conceived and hosted by Kitty Scott, Director of Visual Arts and the Walter Phillips Gallery, where artist Geoffrey Farmer was “staging” a new work, God’s Dice.

The symposium took aim at a number of questions concerning the conception and execution of exhibitions, actions and publications, as well as an inquiry into what curators do. For my part, I was asked to write a series of veiled texts detailing historic artist-curator relations, to be screened (quietly) prior to each event, and moderate a panel on exhibition catalogues, a form I have been contributing to for the past fifteen years.

Although the word has deep roots, “curation” is a relatively recent activity (one need only type the word to be told that it is wrong), and as such was due for an audit. Hastening this has been the proliferation of institutional curatorial programs, most of them taught by people who come to the trade from different disciplines. Art history and studio educations are common points of entry, but there are others.

Ute Meta Bauer
MIT’s Ute Meta Bauer, who gave a keynote address in advance of the symposium’s “Craftwork” panel, told us she was trained in theatrical stage design and worked in television before venturing into exhibition making. Another prominent curator, CCA Wattis Institute’s Jens Hoffmann, studied theatrical direction, which makes sense given his tendency to treat artworks as stage props towards exhibitions inspired by literary works (The Wizard of Oz, Moby-Dick and, most recently, Huckleberry Finn). Still another is Dan Graham.

While Graham is best-known as a visual artist, he entered the contemporary conversation as a private gallerist, curating shows by conceptual artists Sol LeWitt and Robert Smithson, whose text works, like Graham’s own, have influenced proponents of what has been called “conceptual writing”, though it should be said that some of these writers spend more time shopping on these texts than identifying the work as part of an ongoing -- and expanded -- literary system. But that’s another story.

Those who have already clicked on the symposium link will have noted that the weekend included a range of keynotes, panels and social outings. An event that arrived unadvertised was a performance and object giveaway by Can co-founder and Calgary resident Malcolm Mooney, whose soft spoken poems are set in a pre-Giuliani SoHo. Upon hearing that Mooney was living nearby, another symposium participant, White Columns’ Matthew Higgs, simply looked up his number and asked if he would perform. Now how unprofessional is that?
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Michael Turner is a Vancouver-based writer of fiction, criticism and song. He tends a blog of his own. If you're still curious you can find more about him here.

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