Unreal Nature

July 23, 2018

Showing Us Things, Putting Us in Situations

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:32 am

… it can ask them things they don’t want asked or make them think about things they aren’t in the habit of thinking about.

This is from the transcript of Robert Storr’s introductory presentation, ‘How We Do What We Do. And How We Don’t’ from the symposium Curating Now: Imaginative Practice / Public Responsibility (2001):

… My experience is typical to the extent that a lot of us — particularly among sixties- and seventies-era “baby boomers” (although the generational spread here today is quite wide) — entered the art world protesting what the museums did and the way the art world habitually went about its business. Ten, twenty, or thirty years later, depending on when we made our entrance, we discover that, to a greater or lesser degree we are the establishment. If the museums don’t function properly, if the art work is unresponsive to the needs and achievements of artists, there are all kinds of people to blame for that but mostly we must blame ourselves.

… I have abiding doubts about many aspects of the relation of modern and contemporary art to the museums and other venues devoted to them. Those doubts become specific when I consider the ways in which what I, in all good will, do as a curator may qualify or denature what the artist has tried to do. This is not a simple problem and walking away from it won’t help matters.

[line break added] All things considered, I would rather be in a position where I can test certain options in the service of what I believe in and what I think the artist believes in and use my intuition and expertise to try to minimize the mistakes that can be made in presenting their work than to stand back and let someone else run those risks and indulge myself in the luxury of being right about how they were wrong. The fact is I have been responsible for having “framed” or contextualized art in ways that subtly albeit unintentionally altered its meaning or diminished its impact.

… in spite of the vogue for talking about curators as artists I would strongly insist that they are not. I’ve been a painter, an unsuccessful painter, and I know the difference between that and being a fairly successful curator. The conflicts, the pain and the satisfactions of being the former are categorically different from those of being the latter.

[line break added] Notwithstanding that conviction, I do think curators have a medium and if they retain some humility and master their craft their relation to that medium and to art itself is like that of a good editor to a good novelist. Although it’s not the same thing as being a novelist, being an editor involves a deep identification with a living aesthetic. That aesthetic vantage point is as important or in many respects more important than what we usually call “ideas” about art.

… One of our principal tasks as curators and museum professionals is to see to it that what we do does not dampen spontaneous reactions to issues that are undecided. It is not our place to settle these matters among ourselves and pass our conclusions along to the public but rather, in Brechtian fashion, to articulate the disagreements that may exist among us as fully and as well as we can and then present our ideas about all the things the work might possibly represent and might possibly mean so that the public can make up its own mind and add its own thoughts.

… Too often art is explained and justified on the grounds that it is “good” — that is, not just of unimpeachable quality, which by the way we may not all agree is true in a given instance — but that it is also “good for you.” But some art is not really good for you. Some art does not love the art lover back. There is in fact a lot of art that respects the art lover, that treats him or her as equal, as someone capable of interpreting complex ideas and feelings but that also treats them roughly and addresses them only on the condition that the art can be nasty, that it can ask them things they don’t want asked or make them think about things they aren’t in the habit of thinking about.

… I remember that when Kathy Halbreich and Neal Benezra’s Nauman show came to MoMA we were concerned about its being attacked since it was a time when there was a furor in Washington over the use of government money to pay for shows that might be judged “obscene” by conservatives. We also were worried that, given the aggressive use of new media, people might simply stay away in droves. In reality, though, it was one of the most highly attended contemporary shows we have had.

During the exhibition I spent a lot of time in the galleries watching how people behaved. You could see them ping-ponging off all these unexpected works and absorbing the shock without difficulty. The show also demonstrated how people can connect with very contemporary art in ways that they don’t always do with historical modernism.

[line break added] In fact, it’s probably harder for most people to get Marcel Duchamp or even much of Picasso than it is for them to get Nauman. Which means that it’s time to rethink the museological habit of explaining the present by the past in an academic way as if the only way into new art was to know its lineage. During the Nauman show most people didn’t give a damn whether he came out of Duchamp or not; they were involved in what was right there in front of them.

… Although he is a conceptual artist he does not write syllogisms or argue points with the viewer; rather he is an artist who has found ingenious ways of showing us things, putting us in situations where we can see or hear or feel things that belong to these most hard-to-pin-down, indeed never-to-be-pinned-down areas of our consciousness. We as curators are faced with the responsibility of finding appropriate ways to show those artists who have this rare capacity to show things within this fluid realm.

… Antonio Gramsci, the Italian Marxist, described himself as a pessimist of the intellect and an optimist of the will. So am I. It is the only reasonable or at any rate the only livable position.




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