On Curating: Interviews with Ten International Curators

On Curating
, Carolee Thea’s second volume of interviews with ten of today’s leading curators, explores the intellectual convictions and personal visions that lay the groundwork for the most prestigious and influential exhibitions in the world today. Among the aesthetic and theoretical issues raised are the relationship between artist and curator, globalism, post-colonialism, capitalism, the future of cultural tourism and the biennial as spectacle or utopian ideal. As Thea notes in her introduction, “the biennial or mega-exhibition–a laboratory for experimentation, investigation and aesthetic liberation–is where the curators’ experience and knowledge are tested. As they negotiate venues for artistic expression, intellectual critiques and humanistic concerns in their own societies and others, they are challenged by the certainties and uncertainties of a constantly evolving future.”


” It has been my interest to interview those curators who represent or comment on the multiplying centers and hybrid activities articulated into their individual zones of scrutiny. “ Carolee Thea, On Curating: Interviews with Ten International Curators

Carolee Thea’s collection of interviews is extremely detailed and specific to each curator’s personal curatorial preferences. In her interviews she has shown an extensive knowledge of the respective curators’ past works, showcasing her research skills; she has a wonderful ability to draw out the emotional ties linking the curators to their work, as well as encourage detailed examples of the creative management that goes into the curation of a show.

Unfortunately, the manner in which the interviews have been published makes the conversations appear over-edited, and since the reader is not given the full conversation, Thea’s side of the conversation can at times seem lacking, making it difficult to see how successful Thea can be at driving the conversation in specific directions and encouraging the interviewees to speak in such detail.

This compilation focuses on a few choice themes: the present interactions between art and history and the historical meaning of art; funding and the economic representation of art; the cultural implications of art and artists when exhibiting in an uncommon public or community setting; reflection on the change in focus from the dominant medium of painting, to a more varied array of works

Though the information gleaned in this compilation lends itself to a diverse interpretation of what curation implies, of who is capable of it, and speaks to both the grounded and lofty ideals of a curator, this text remains exclusive, as many art-based texts do. The formal verbiage indicative of art professionals makes this a semi-difficult read for those without prior knowledge of the field. With additional research into past works, the reader may come to a better understanding of what each curator means when relating the topic to their work, but having a general understanding of art is not enough – in reading this text, one must explore the various mediums of art (including social practice, film, performance, etc.) as well as research the social hierarchy of the art world and the interactions amongst art critics, curators, and the audience.


NOTES on each interview:

1. Mary Jane Jacob

“A communal experience can also be a shared silence on a public street; it can propel a dialogue that extends beyond the art object. This is what public art can do— when you think about the public as much as the art.”

“… my goal is to reunite a neighborhood through the living manifestation of an artist’s ideas— ideas that would otherwise look solely symbolic, aesthetic or contrived.”

Jacob has an almost humanitarian outlook when it comes to the discussion of the artist’s purpose, and the opportunities for community building through public art. Her willingness to think outside the typical venue led to projects such as her first curation project, the Michigan Art Train, and her 2014 show A Proximity of Consciousness: Art and Social Action. Jacob has developed close ties to the curation of social practice work, a (relatively) newly recognized art form, having only been recognized circa 2005.

2.Massimilliano Gioni

” I’m interested in relations that are parasitic, so think of it as a sort of viral campaign.”

” Biennials are publicity machines, but the equation that money equals = evil is wrong. Money is a tool. You could say that it’s better to spend money on biennials than on weapons and wars. Furthermore, money and art have been in bed forever. “

Gioni is a highly intelligent and organized curator who appreciates detail, who pays close attention to the history of the cultures he seeks to interact with. Through his hard work, he seeks to create the idea that his work as a curator lends to the art an effortless display.
Gioni is also very aware of the art economy, discussing at length the monetary attributes of the art world, mentioning the long-term relationship between money and art, and expressing what it means to work with art that wouldn’t normally fit into the mainstream social circles of the Biennale elite due to the difference in monetary value versus other forms of value.

Massimiliano Gioni is based in NYC, and the current artistic director at the New Museum. He was the curator of the 55th Venice Biennale in 2013, as well as one of the curators of the 4th Berlin Biennale when he rechristened the Wrong Gallery to Gagosian Gallery for a two year time period. Exhibiting as of January 26th, Gioni has curated a new exhibition in Rome, Italy, showing, for the first time, contemporary art from FENDI, by Giuseppe Penone.

3. RoseLee Goldberg

” After three decades of writing about performance, my mission is to insert performance back into the history of art. The practice has either been overlooked or, as in the case of the international mega-exhibition, often presented as a sideshow. “

Goldberg places an emphasis on the hierarchy present in the value of certain mediums at the biennale. Performance art has, for quite some time, taken a back seat to the more accessible artworks, such as paintings. Goldberg points out that for many years, there was an understanding that performance was like a form of research, a preparation for the creation of an object. However, she insists that this is changing, that many artists go across disciplines to create final works, and that, along with her own varied artistic background, is the reason behind her interest in curating performance art specifically.

At a PERFORMA gala this past November, Goldberg, who founded the performance art biennale, honored Thea’s next interviewee, Venice Biennale director Okwui Enwezor, naming him “the king of curators”.

4. Okwui Enwezor

“… in today’s art world, there is no dominant medium. For centuries, painting enjoyed a preeminence unequaled by any other medium. I don’t know why this hasn’t continued as it did throughout the 20th century. Might it be that artists have shifted their emphasis? Great painting is still vital, but it has to contend for space with other fields and practices— which are not necessarily bound to a single medium.”

” It’s interesting to look at the exhibition as a medium that is part of a continuing cultural practice. What comes out of that understanding is a larger awareness of how you tell a story, because exhibitions are narrative by nature— one thing after another: sentences, paragraphs, line breaks, punctuation, exclamation marks, etc. “
“An exhibition for me is as much a textual as a visual device; how you scan left to right, right to left.”

In this interview, it quickly became clear that the reception of Documenta XI was of great importance to Enwezor, and because Thea encouraged him to express his feelings on the topic, the interview serves to explore the reactions of an audience to the uncommon art forms and uncommon displays of such art, and to the acceptance of the documentary in the art world.

The interview then veers into the direction of politics, followed by social influences on art, and ends with the personal admission of emotional meaning Enwezor found in working on The Short Century: Independence and Liberation Movements in Africa, 1945-1994 at P.S.1, and the cultural connection he found to his African roots.

5. Charles Esche

” I think that phrase, Utopia Station, is a nice, catchy term and a good marketing device— but it is also where the danger lies. If you reduce art to these marketing terms, to these superficial, hip-sounding phrases, then you destroy its potential to transform the imagination. It is, finally, destructive. “

The social boundaries of art interpretation are directly influenced by the presentation of artwork; one of the responsibilities allocated to the curator is the creation of a space where dialogue is possible and allows the art to speak to a wide range of possibilities, extricating itself from conventional norms. In this, Esche shows a profound understanding of what it means to be explorative and forward-looking when creating that space, and knowing when to use reimagine conventional spaces to benefit of the artwork, and when using those spaces will only limit the artwork.

6.Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev


7.Rirkrit Tiravanija


8. Joseph Backstein


9. Pi Li


10. Virginia Pérez-Ratton



6 Comments Add yours

  1. mgb says:

    I totally agree that performance is often treated as a “sideshow” and while I can not speak to the mega-exhibitions, its ephemeral nature requires a commitment of the public to be present in viewing in order for the work to exist (or does it exist without the viewer????) . Does she ever note how we archive and preserve these fleeting works?


    1. Roma Lucero says:

      Unfortunately that is not covered in the interview. The inference that documentation is key in accessing the value of art is a common understanding, because the current structures in place demand that the value of a work depends on its resistance to time, on the ownership rather than the experience. I’m not sure how we begin to restructure this understanding, but it is my opinion that the only ways in which to preserve performance art is photographic and recorded documentation, which in many cases can diminish the experience of the performance, and takes away the sensations one encounters when viewing the work in person, much like viewing a photograph of a sculpture.


  2. davideyepes says:

    Curators at Biennales especially might focus especially on commercial art. How can a curator challenge the way that art is perceived, expanding the ideas of the ultimate value of art? Could a curator make an impact on how we see art? I personally think that curator plays a critical role in our perception of art. They can really challenge us to think differently and focus on different elements. So I wonder how curators can be empowered to bring innovation in the value of art.


    1. Roma Lucero says:

      The curator most certainly does have an impact on the manner in which one views the art, enhancing the experience of viewing the work and therefore inviting the viewer to create their own value of what they have seen based on whether the exhibition spoke to them or not.
      Art value depends almost completely on the experience of viewing the artwork, either by the reviews written by critics who’ve gone to the exhibit, or by those who’ve purchased the art at the end of a show, or merely by the design through which a curator has chosen to line up the artwork, placing careful emphasis on certain works in order to inspire a rise in value for those chosen works, depending on the success of the show.
      One must also keep in mind that the more innovative and unconventional a curated exhibition becomes, the more it can stray from the world of the elite, who seem to control the vast majority of monetary value listings. However, in this regard the work may be exposed to a larger audience who may place a higher social and cultural value on the work due to the intrigue caused by the unconventional method of curation.


  3. Nejla says:

    Having read a book also by Thea, I’d have to agree on the style and interviews seeming edited, however I think that her emmense knowledge of the artist works makes up for her maybe skipping out on a few things to include in the books.
    The monetary aspect of art internationally also came up in part two of the book, however how do you draw a line in which because the artists come from a third world country and do need to make a sale vs. not having the monetary value in mind, change in the curating those works?


  4. I am interested in the interview with Mary Jane Jacob and curation within the work of social practices. I agree when she says, “A communal experience can also be a shared silence on a public street; it can propel a dialogue that extends beyond the art object. This is what public art can do— when you think about the public as much as the art.” I don’t always find that public art does a god job of invoking dialogue or benefitting the environment it is in, but I do think it has the power to do so! Public art should be about what the community needs and not something that the artist or curator is forcing upon the community. So I am curious how a curator working with this medium finds the balance between the artist’s eye and the public’s need?


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