Of the four panels at the Are Curators Unprofessional? symposium, the one I most looked forward to was “Craftwork”, where
Panelists will explore the craft of exhibition making, by examining exhibitions that have provoked paradigm shifts. Is curating a trade or craft, rather than a profession? If exhibition making is a craft, what are the qualities that define this craft? What skills must a curator possess? Which exhibitions have provoked paradigm shifts?
The above questions, like all those “asked” in advance of their respective panels, were rhetorical at best, disingenuous at worst. Ute Meta Bauer, Director and Associate Professor of MIT’s Visual Arts Program, opted for the paradigmatic, describing groundbreaking exhibitions such as the 1913 Armory Show, Harald Szeemann’s 1969 When Attitudes Become Form and Jan Hoet’s 1992 Documenta IX – not why we have come to canonize these exhibitions, only that they are canonical.
National Museum of the American Indian Associate Curator Paul Chaat Smith proceeded allegorically. Employing his trademark juxtaposition of personal narrative and film screening, Smith’s delivered his talk alongside the opening twenty minutes (sans sound) of the film “most American Indians agree speaks best to their experience” as United States subjects: Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. (Smith’s comment was reminiscent of something U.S. writer Toni Morrison said last year: that her country’s first African-American president was not Barack Obama but Bill Clinton.)
However, it was Andrea Villani, Director of Trento’s Fondazione Galleria, that left the biggest impression on this participant. Structuring his talk as opera (“Curatorial Prelude”, “Some Misadventurous Case Histories In Curating” and “Curatorial Happy Ending”), Andrea opened with a sequence of nicely phrased questions that sounded more like aria than recitatif. Below is Andrea’s “Prelude”:
*) How to transform a museum, a museum exhibition into a soap opera, or into a radio program, to reshape the architecture of the museum in order to allow it to synchronize and to tune into another potential plan, and finally to transmit to the audience how to transform the intellectual, consumerist routine of doing or visiting a show into a mysterious act, an enchanted experience?
*) How to transform the neo-conservative agenda that drove a museum to close to travel in space and time, which recuperates the reasons for opening this museum?
*) How to legitimize not just the public, exploited, consumerist reasons for opening a museum and doing a show, but also the deep, intimate, oneiric, perverted, controversial need for doing so. How to find a myth (sorry Pier Luigi) on which founding the museum and its publicly shared need, like for a church, or a pagan temple?
*) How to legitimize the intellectual presence and action of the museum, of the exhibition, in a public arena overly blind and disinterested, or even hostile, to intellectual agency? How to reload the institutional formats, while at the same time criticizing their obsolescence and self-referentiality?