The last panel of the symposium, The Catalogue Is Out!, was the one I moderated. Below are the questions we were asked to consider:
What is the function of the exhibition catalogue? How does it mediate between the work and the world? Is curatorial writing the lowest genre of art writing? What is the difference between criticism, curatorial writing and art history?Responses varied, from Philip Monk’s oblique argument in favour of the parallel text to Monika Szewcyck’s consideration of the online catalogue to Matthew Higgs’s devaluation of the genre altogether. However, the best moments came from the audience, most notably Mendel Art Gallery Curator Jen Budney, who related a story of an artist insisting on a hard copy catalogue when an online catalogue was more consistent with the work.
Budney’s dilemma returned me to last February’s Cultural Olympiad, where of all the projects generated by this one-time infusion of public funds, most of the visual art publication money went to CODE (Cultural Olympiad’s digital edition), a technological trade show disguised as a visual art exhibition. Why CODE organizers demanded a hard copy catalogue over an online platform speaks to a contradiction that has the book less a dimension of the larger art experience than a souvenir for those who, despite their attachment to an obliterating future, continue to romanticize what they insist has passed.