Without a theme, under what other organizing principles might an exhibition be curated?

30. 9. 2011 // // Kategorie Randnotizen 2011

Placing a number of disparate artworks side by side under the umbrella of a single theme is, in one sense, a way of taming them. One possible meaning of this gesture is as follows: these artworks will no longer run wild in every direction, but will fall in line behind a single, guiding interpretation. This slightly unfair criticism of todays dominant curatorial approach leads me to wonder what other organizational principles might be used to generate a group exhibition. Some obvious possibilities come to mind. For example, a phone tree structure: the curator chooses one artist, who goes on to chose the next, who goes on the chose the next, etc. Or a simple principle in which a curator tries to put works of art together that are as different from one another as possible. (I think this would create a fascinating challenge, trying to define the various qualities of artistic difference that might be brought into play.) Or a curator invites a certain number of artists to participate in a show. Each of the artists is asked to propose an organizing principle that might be used. All of the artists then vote on the various suggestions and several organizing principles are selected. Each of the organizing principles gets its own room within the show and the artists can choose which of the rooms they would like to participate in. Of course many projects have been made along these lines. But I am certain there could be many other productive scenarios that might be imagined. The point is simply that there are other ways.

How an exhibition is organized does as much to generate its meaning as the individual works it contains, in the same way that media censorship today is predominantly structural. No one person decides what will or will not be in the news, and yet certain stories and approaches are systematically avoided or marginalized. (For example, the medias scant mention of the current Occupy Wall Street protests.) But one does not need to resort to cheap comparisons to the pathetic state of the American media in order to highlight the artistic shortcomings of the thematically organized exhibition model. One only has to realize how dominant it is, how it leaves little room for other approaches or other ways of thinking about art. If there is no room for productive chaos in art, no room for an expanding diversity of organizational principles, where else might one find such spaces?