A curator writes.
OK. But what does a curator write ?
‘Exhibition texts’ ?
“Qu’avons nous fait ? Nous nous étions dit non, pas de textes convenus, préfaces,
articles des professionnels du catalogue.2”
In front of the task of writing an ‘exhibition text,’ what doe the curator write? A discursive commission to fill in the space at the nexus of the ‘Public,’ the ‘Institution,’ the ‘Artists and their works,’ and the ‘Exhibition?’ Can the curator write outside of the ‘textes convenus,’ ‘préfaces,’ and ‘articles des professionnels du catalogue'?
Can the curator stop writing ‘exhibition texts’ and start writing ‘curatorial texts?’
A possible commencement could be a movement away from the synonymous usage between ‘exhibition text’ and ‘curatorial text', towards a semantic distinction, a definitional decision. Such a decision would ask the curator not only to be conscious of their own voice, of what structures authorize it, of its origins, but rather to posit what would be a curatorial voice. Writing curatorially would be the set challenge.
What does it mean to write curatorially? What does it mean to write from the position of the curator? What does it mean to reject the naturalized form of the ‘exhibition text,’ and aim at the ‘curatorial text?’ With this curatorial text, I am not trying to answer those questions, but rather to ask them again. To ask them again, with an exhibition, one of curatorial texts, with Charles Esche and Maria Hlavajova, Alexander Donner and El Lissitzky, Gavin Wade, Jean-François Lyotard and Thierry Chaput, Céline Condorelli and Gavin Wade, Lucy Lippard, Joseph Kosuth, Charles Stankievech, Willem de Rooij, Bart de Baere and Dirk Pütlau, Zdenka Badovinac, Meschac Gaba, Éric Mangion, Alexander Alberro, Hans Ulrich Obrist and Jan Hoet. Even though some of them are not curators, nor are they in the position of the curator when writing their texts, they expand what is an ‘exhibition text’ and disrupt its conventional format, creating an opening for what would be the ‘curatorial text.3
To create such opening for the ‘curatorial text’ requires consciously creating such a category of writing, not to rely anymore on a default conception of what is a text written by a curator, but rather, to posit and reflect on what the ‘curatorial text’ can be. What if the curator wrote as a curator? What if the curator wrote within the same deontology as when producing exhibitions? The text can be an exhibition on its own; or an iteration of an exhibition, instead of being para-textual. It can be the primary level of information. The challenge is to conceive of how a curator can write curatorially.
The texts presented in this exhibition point to what it could be to write ‘curatorially.’ They bring into the conception and writing the same specific thinking at work within the making of exhibitions. There has been a significant amount of discourse produced by curators to define what is the ‘curatorial,’ but the curator’s task to write for an exhibition has been left out. Therein lies a new challenge.
The writing strategies exhibited here differ in style, but as a corpus reveal a direction for the ‘curatorial text’. As an exhibition, the site of the texts, whether exhibition catalogues or published books, become objects to display, to consult, to research; intersected by a selective plane.
This exhibition is also an annotated bibliography. To give access to the research material that led to this exhibition, the annotated bibliography can be accessed through this link: https://aaaaarg.fail/collection/5c340ba29ff37c5b24622bca
Here, my challenge was to make an exhibition of ‘exhibition texts,’ and then to write the accompanying ‘exhibition text’ for that exhibition.
Still, this text is a conventional one, it is not yet a ‘curatorial text.’
Rather, the curatorial text is the table.
1 Lyotard, Jean-François and Thierry Chaput. “La raison des épreuves.” In Epreuves d’écriture, edited by Chantal Noël, 6. Paris: Éditions du Centre Georges Pompidou, 1985.
3 This paragraph uses the writing structure of a previous curatorial text from a previous exhibition I curated, “and I am the curator of this show1” with Sophie Bélair Clément, Walter Benjamin and an exhibition structure, where the text was the exhaustive Curator’s Acknowledgements. Here is what the Curator’s Acknowledgements for this exhibition would be:
Special thanks to Charles Stankievech for permitting me to pursue and deepen my research on the curatorial text; it would never have been that challenging without your guidance. Thank you for trusting me. Special thanks to Merray Gerges, Marie Andrée Godin and Sahar Te for the conversations that would shape what this research has become. Special thanks to Vincent Bonin for sharing a similar dissatisfaction with the state of curatorial writing. Special thanks to Marie Fraser for ongoing curatorial guidance and discussion; and to Kate Whiteway for being such an exciting partner to have in the curatorial field; I couldn’t have been better supported. A spatial thanks to Faraz Anoushahpour and a special thanks Koko, as well as to https://aaaaarg.fail for hosting an accessible iteration of the exhibition.
Special thanks to Charles Esche and Maria Hlavajova, Alexander Donner and El Lissitzky, Gavin Wade, Jean-François Lyotard and Thierry Chaput, Céline Condorelli and Gavin Wade, Lucy Lippard, Joseph Kosuth, Charles Stankievech, Willem de Rooij, Bart de Baere and Dirk Pütlau, Zdenka Badovinac, Meschac Gaba, Éric Mangion, Alexander Alberro, Hans Ulrich Obrist and Jan Hoet for writing these texts in such a way that expands the possible models for the exhibition texts. Thanks for not necessarily always writing within the position of the curator, but somehow still writing curatorially.