… and the Exhibiton as Situation (PDF)

First published in Protections Reader (Graz: Kunsthaus Graz, 2006)

“New institutionalism is the buzzword of current European curatorial discourse. A term poached from social science, it classifies effectively a field of curatorial practice, institutional reform and critical debate concerned with the transformation of art institutions from within. New institutionalism is characterised by the rhetoric of the temporary – transient encounters, states of flux and open-endedness. It embraces a dominant strand of contemporary art practice – namely that which employs dialogue and participation to produce event or process-based works rather than objects for passive consumption. New institutionalism responds to (some might even say assimilates) the working methods of artistic practice and furthermore, artist-run initiatives, whilst maintaining a belief in the gallery, museum or arts centre (and by association their buildings) as a necessary locus of (or platform for) art.”

“What New Institutionalism demands of course is not only different kinds of curatorial strategies and an integration of programming staff (across exhibitions, education, performance, talks and film), but also shifts in visitor behaviour back and forth between reception and participation. […] It seems to me that it is at this point – in the gap between conventional exhibition-making and ‘performative curating’ – that we locate the dilemma of New Institutionalism: how to respond to artistic practice, without prescribing the outcome of engagement; how to create a programme which allows for a diversity of events, exhibitions and projects, without privileging the social over the visual.”

“We might look to the etymology of the term ‘curator’ and speculate that the same duty of care borne by the custodian of the collection, governs the curator of the exhibition as situation. Their responsibilities might be defined (rather schematically) as follows: •    To support the artist to produce a process, project or work that responds to the exhibition as a mutable concept, with due consideration to the context of the group dynamic; that is true to the artist’s practice, but which moves beyond a replication of previous work; that eventually may also operate outside the originating context of the exhibition; •    To support and engender encounters – recruiting participants, engaging viewers, interlocutors and collaborators to experience the projects and works as autonomous significations within the logic of an exhibition; provoking opportunities for new understandings and responses to context and initiating potential outcomes beyond the event-exhibition. The exhibition as situation necessitates engagement between artists, curators and audience and hence requires a thorough understanding of the aesthetics of engagement.”

“So how do we move beyond the rhetoric of New Institutionalism? What kinds of exhibitions will result from this discourse? Exhibition models are beginning to emerge through experimental formats […]. Let’s hope their self- reflexive, cumulative and engaging festival format will have significant impact on the structural make-up of their institutions. Yet, the evidence so far is not good – Directors of both the Rooseum in Malmö and Kunstverein München have moved on, with their institutions unable to address the legacy of New Institutionalism, whilst the corporatisation of larger art institutions continues to mitigate against self-reflexivity and experiment. It seems perhaps that such projects may continue to remain the exception rather than the norm, best produced through the institutions’ off-site programmes and for international biennales, than within the walls of the institution itself. Brian Holmes’ laboratory of social evolution is some way off.”

Quelle Text: www.situations.org.uk

Quelle Bild: Kunsthaus Graz | “The Stray Man” von Roman Ondak (2006)