Curationism – David Balzer

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Notes from David Balzer’s  How Curation took over the Art World and Everything Else.

He tracks the development of curation, both as an act and then as a profession. He suggests that curation is seen as a way to add value to art or indeed assets of any kind. And he goes on to talk about the work of curation – again, both in art and bringing it up to date with how we all curate our lives (and are curated).

My notes:

‘Thus far our story of curationism has centred on value: how the inherent novelties of the avant-garde, under the translating influence of the curator (or, later, something like the curator), became assets’.

‘A contrarian, insouciant and critical attitude towards work is also essential to the avant-garde’s value imparting, and we have certainly seen this not only in radical artists but also in star curators, and dilettante celebrity curators, whose ‘labour’ lover the choices they make for a variety of exhibitions and product lines can seem either dubious or overarticulated’. (pg 91)

Institutional curators, corporate collections, appropriating other expertise to add to Art curation (Jay-Z) etc.

Relational Aesthetics’ .. the study and portrayal of human interactions. Is this what I am doing with etc Cambodia project?

Hans Ulrich Obrist. ‘ … his aggressive, paranoid commitment to defining his curational work as labour and to branding himself as hyper-industrial’. (pg 93)

.. Critical theory .. became trendy in the 1980s and colonised Universities in the 1990s .. allowing graduates of various humanities departments to specialise, and thus brand themselves [as professionals] ..’ (pg 94)

‘The avant-garde is intimately tied to capitalist practice’ (pg 95)

Mid 1990s .. artists were learning to create their own educations, and thereby to make themselves amenable to curators’ (pg 95)

Today an MFA is an imperative for a contemporary artist’ (pg 96)

Vancouver curator Karen Love, 2010, Curatorial Toolkit (pdf) … on the ground practice of putting on a show:

  • researching a concept
  • finding a venue
  • paperwork concerning logistics
  • completing the project concepts and artist selection
  • budgeting
  • completes paperwork for artists and potential grants, establishes a plan for outreach and public programming, and devises a media strategy – everything from design identify to PR (pg 102)

‘Obrist represents the new feudalism emerging in cultural work, in which a select deskilled few from older generations .. maintain their illustrious positions, leaving only scant vacancies … accessible only to the very wealthy’ (pg 108)

Curation as an everyday activity we are all involved in … selections and choices (pg 112)

Experience design and curation (James H. Gilmore. 1998. Experience Economy. HBR.)

‘.. the title of Curator is itself inherently and inevitably curatorial, a way of imparting value to activities as exclusive and specialised work’ (pg 114)

‘Social Media sites now use your [personal] curatorial work as free market research [and targetting] data’ (pg 117)

Airbnb as curator of properties…

Twitter, Google and Facebook simply use [old fashioned] categories … the constant curation goes back to the basic notions of [consumerist] identity: who we are is expressed by what we like and collect’ (pg 126)

‘You are more than what you like. You are more, even, than how you like’ (pg 130)

…. quiet contemplation versus tech-modernist Exhibition consumption?


Balzer, David. 2015. How Curation took over the Art World and Everything Else. London: Pluto Books.

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